Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I rode 150 Stinking Miles!

The MS Ride (for Multiple Sclerosis) has been going on for many years. They call it the “Jack and Back” here in Tennessee because you cycle from Nashville to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg TN. There is a 50 mile route to Lynchburg and a 75 mile route to Lynchburg…. Which one do you think I chose?

One of the things I love best about these events is that there is no one shape, age or body type, all are represented. It is inspiring how everyone with 2 wheels (sometimes three) come out to participate and support the Cause. My Team was put together by my friend/client Greg Luken who owns Luken wealth management and ponied up for our sweet Jerseys which had an overwhelming response to the “cool-factor” on the course. A plethora of people asked what LUKEN was, and eventually we had to ask Greg to coach us through his elevator speech so we could properly respond other than “er, ummm, well,…”

I’ve cycled around Middle Tennessee for a long time now, and those Country Music singers ain’t lying when they talk about those Hills of Tennessee. I know most of the big climbs, but after a few counties, I got to see some whole new ones. What was even better was that we had two guys from Houston TX with our group and they hadn’t a hill bigger than a mole-hill before. One of the hills of legend around here is one we call Pull-Tight Hill. It’s about a half mile long and straight up, and the view at the top is magnificent. One of the TX riders had owned his bike for years and never even changed gears into his small ring. (For Non-riders: a small ring is used for hill climbing, a big ring is used for flat courses and speed). Just out of principle, he wasn’t willing to change into his small ring, which made it a really hard climb, but he still did it! There were a few other hills like that closer to Lynchburg that I had never ridden before, and I did my best to resist the urge to speed up them because I had another full day or riding ahead of me.

Starting out, it was cold, about 45 degrees. That doesn’t sound bad, but when you start riding your bike, the wind drops the temperature drops 10 degrees. I’m usually okay in that weather as long as I can keep my hands and feet warm. If my hands get cold, it just hurts so much. Luckily I planned that part out and it made for a good ride, and as it warmed up we all started shedding layers and getting creative on how to carry our jackets and cold weather gear with us to the finish.

The people who put on the event did such a great job with rest stops every 10-12 miles with food, drinks and more food. They had bike repair tents, massage tents, social gathering areas, music and lots of cheering for the riders. It made it so fun. They had volunteers and police at every corner and intersection telling us directions for 75 miles! They had trucks and cars all over the course in case of emergencies and bike breakdowns. TX-Mike (as we will call him) got a flat tire around mile 35. We had all the gear with us to fix it, but still there were people around for support. Thing was, he had gotten 2 flat tires on that same tire last week. Something was up, but we changed it and moved on.

The beautiful ride which ended at Motlow College, just a few minutes from the Jack Daniels Distillery was the final resting place for the evening. Most camp out in tents on the campus, or sleep on blow-up mattresses in the gymnasium, but we really roughed it! We hopped in Greg’s king cap truck and drove to his lake house 20 minutes away on Tim’s Ford Lake….it was really rough sitting in his warm house picking which football game to watch, it was really rough staying awake as I sat outside on the deck listen to the water lapping on the lake, and it was really rough taking my pick of which pillow top bed to sleep on.

In the morning we got our bikes and I didn’t anticipate the cold! 36 Degrees. It was cold enough to frost the grass around us, and being the only one in biking shorts getting ready to ride I was beginning to rethink my choices. But TX-Mike came through with an extra pair of cycling tights and it was a life saver. He is 6’2” and I am 5’9” and I had them pulled up to my chest, but they did the trick and kept me warm the whole ride.

The route took us a different way back to Nashville and somehow no matter which way we rode the wind stayed in our face the whole ride. The wind was relentless. There was a point I was traveling downhill and had to pedal quickly and was still slowing down! Normally the downhill is a rest time when I can coast, drink, eat and pick up some speed and here I was slowing down because of the darn wind. My face was wind burned and I was traveling on average about 4mph slower than usual. Sheesh.

While at a rest stop sipping on hot chocolate to warm up, our bikes were sitting with about 50 other bikes and we heard what sounded like a gunshot go off. If you’ve been around biking enough, you know that is the sound of a tire blowing. After many of us (afraid to look) held our breath as we looked over our bike tires…sure enough, TX-Mike’s same tire had blow again. And after calling around to all the bike support vans, cars and trucks, there was only 1 bike tire left on 75 miles of the course. We played the - “Mike drove all the way from Houston TX to do this ride” – card…. And they gave him the tire to finish the ride.

Despite the wind and the cold, the weather was perfect blue skies all day and we worked as a Team to finish the ride together. Yes, our legs were tired, our rear-ends were tired, and we all felt pretty worn, there is no better energy than pulling into the finish area with the crowd clapping. They were waving and telling us “THANK YOU!!” for helping to support The Cause to Cure MS. But honestly, we felt thankful to them for giving us perspective and inspiration. We thank them for their strength and attitude to take advantage of each day and live each moment to the fullest. I, in no way, can compare the struggle of a 150 mile bike ride to the struggles of MS. However, if someone with MS can stay positive and hopeful for a cure as they deal with their day-to-day issues, I can draw inspiration from their courage and continue to do my very best in all I do.

Here is how I felt at the end of the ride:

Here is also how I felt at the end of the ride:

You can still donate to my fundraising by CLICKING HERE.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Eating Pavement and Pigs in Lexington

There are many beautiful places in this US of A, and I think that Lexington, KY is right up there. When the wife, of one of my best childhood friends, suggested that he and I meet in Lexington for a bike ride I jumped at the chance. I knew about it for months before he did, but she kept it as a surprise for his birthday and she hit a homerun. Zach has been an avid endurance cyclist for years and is also the one who rode 140.6 miles (on his trainer!!) at the same time I was completing 140.6 miles at Ironman Florida last November. Yet, he had never entered a cycling event and this was to be his first and I was going to do my best to make it as memorable as possible.

It all started a few days before the event when he contacted me telling me his bike frame had cracked and he was scrambling to find a bike. Long story short, he bought a brand new bike that was a day late being ready and the first time he ever saw the bike was when they were strapping it to his car on his way out of town to meet me! “Nothing New on Race Day” philosophy was out the window. When he arrived at our hotel in Lexington we rode around the parking lot in the dark adjusting his seat and handle bars to the correct height and decided it would do okay. We also kept hearing a “click” every so often, but it was too dark to decipher what the sound was. I told him that sometimes the chains on new bikes are noisy and moody, and it should be fine.

The morning before the event was beautiful. Perfect weather, perfect temperature and a good crowd was gathering on the campus of Georgetown College in Georgetown, KY. The event was very well run and organized I would go back and do it again in a minute. The crowd was friendly and talkative, and Zach and I loved looking at all the bikes…. No two were alike. Before long we were off in our pack of about 1000+. We hadn’t yet decided whether we were going to complete the 50 or 75 mile route, and decision time was at mile 39. Since the rainy weather in both Ohio and Tennessee for the last few weeks had prevented us from training properly for this ride, we decided we would make a game-time decision at mile 39.

I helped with that decision process at mile 11 when coming down a small little decline there was a slight bend in the road. At the bend was a gravel driveway where some of the gravel had made its way out onto the road. I thought I had safely avoided the gravel, however, my rear tire caught it and I began to slide. While I was able to upright myself with luck, I up righted myself right into a grassy ditch with a row of trees and roots and fence in the ditch. As my tires became wet in the grass my breaks stopped working as I pumped on them and finally my shoulder caught a tree and sent me straight off my bike.

This all happened within about 1 second. The thoughts that can go through your mind during this brief encounter are almost infinite. I thought, “This is how people break their collarbone; I’ve never had a broken bone; I’ve always thought I was indestructible; I wasn’t even screwing off this time; I just hope I don’t get hit in the face; Is anyone watching?; Oh man, I may get out of this if I can just get out of this ditch…”

As I was on the ground in the ditch, peeling myself out from under my bike, surprisingly I felt completely fine. I was bloody and got a Charlie horse from hitting my calf muscle, but I popped right up. As people came running up to me to see if I was okay, I was already cracking jokes like “Who put the tree in the middle of the road?” And “I’m ok really… I broke my fall with my arm.” That helped to ease all the concerned faces around, and Zach and I hopped on our bikes and rode off again. My scars and bloody shoulder made for good conversation as we passed cyclists all day. Even a day later as I write this it doesn’t look as gnarly as before.

Only a few miles later as we were headed up a big climb I was feeling good and rode ahead because I had some momentum and at the top of the hill I just pedaled softly waiting for my companion to which he never showed. I stopped, waited, waited, waited and knew it had been too long, something had happened. I rode back a short way and sure enough there was Zach and two gentleman standing on the side of the road with Zach’s broken chain in hand! As I tried to decipher their broken English, I used my principles of detection (reading “FRANCE” their cycle jersey) to make conversation about the Tour de France and other such things while the mechanic pulled cycle tools I had never seen before out of his bag. After a while of road-side maintenance the chain was fixed! We thanked them profusely and offered them a Pint as a thank you. They just told us to pay-it-forward, and we were all on our way again.

By this time, we were toward the back of the pack and with the real party. No pace lines, no hammerheads, just cycling for the joy of cycling and taking in the beautiful countryside. I loved it. We took extra time at the aid stations, and met the locals and called it a day at 50 miles. We joked it was longest 50 miles of our life (took over 4 hours to complete), but it was so enjoyable. And we smelled roasted pig as we rolled in, and it called us home.

As we sat down in our sweaty spandex to a fully catered, top-notch dinner on the lawn of Georgetown Campus, we knew we’d be back. It could have been the waiters in white Oxford button-downs and black pants serving us sweet deliciousness, or it could have been the amazing volunteers who went out of their way to help, or it could have been the whole Horsey Hundred experience.

Do this ride, you won’t regret it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Marathon Monday - The Boston Marathon

I'm not easily suckered, or so I'd like to think. I found a marathon training plan that both scared and intrigued me and looked like it just might work. It was endorsed and "used" by many of the professional marathon runners and coaches.... just like LeBron James "uses" Icy Hot and "eats" McDonald's to make him play so well. While the endorsements were a turn off, I did respect the coach who put it together, and I stuck it in my  hip pocket for future use.

The movie that inspired a movement, or at least gave it a name, was The Bucket List...things to do before you kick-the-bucket. I've always been a goal oriented person and have set many goals to complete in each area of my life. On the fitness side, when I turned 30 years old I set 5 races to complete before I kick-the-bucket thinking they would take many years to complete, The Boston Marathon being one of them. After completing Ironman last November (4th event of the 5) I was ready to take a break after having had the most wonderful experience and was ready to bask aftermath of training and my new found fitness. I was also ready for a financial break from these races as well. The life experience and insights into myself I gained were priceless, but that doesn't mean they weren't pricey.

Along came my same friend who opened up a New York Marathon spot for me (2nd event of the 5) and offered me a spot in The Boston Marathon. While many who run Boston qualify with a blazing fast time for their age group, there are many spots given to charities and sponsors, and that's how I was going to get in the race. While I'm no slouch at running, I wasn't yet at a place in my life to totally sacrifice my family, business and everything else to reach the 3:05 qualifying time needed for my age. I was happy to take the wonderful gift, however there was a caveat, you start in the back. I was ok with it, and I started in on the new training plan to get me ready.

Meeting many wonderful and crazy-fit people at our hotel and in the line for the bus marathon morning, there were many experienced runners around and there wasn't the usual nervous energy race morning. There was an intensity in the air from all the type-A personalities, but it was calm and positive. Eventually I left Athelete's Village and was in my corral.... in the last wave, in the last corral. Before our gun went off, at one point I looked behind me and there was nobody! 27000 people and I was starting dead last. The great part about that was I was with all the charity runners. Team In Training, Hole in the Wall, American Cancer Society, Boston Children's Home and many many others. It reminded to be thankful for the ability to even be able to run and enjoy what I love.

As we all began to run I already began to feel the weight of the masses and starting in the back. Many slower runners, and runners dressed as Elvis and wearing skirts and flags, etc, etc. While I know and love this aspect of big races, this time I wanted to see what I could potentially run. Spending much of the first three miles weaving back and forth on the road finding gaps and stopping short and speeding up I knew I was spending a lot of extra energy. Then I noticed a gentleman just easily cruising along on the berm with about my same speed. I worked over towards him and together on the outside of the madness we passed 1000's. He was from Denmark (so said his jersey) and he spoke no English and it was pretty nice run with somebody and have no obligation to talk in the moment. He eventually stopped at a water stop and I kept going and now the crowd had thinned a little bit.

I was able to hit my pace and was feeling very good by mile 8. I had made up for lost time and was on track to hit my goal time! What kept playing in my head was this new training plan, in which you only run up to 16 miles and no further. There was a lot of weekly mileage however no 20 mile runs, no 3 hour runs, just 16 miles. Though I followed the plan to the letter, I was very curious to see what happened after mile 16.

The streets were lined with people the entire race and lots of polite applause and witty remarks and funny and inspirational signs. However nearing the Half Marathon mark I hear high pitched screaming. As I crested a slight hill I saw the streets on either side packed with the Wellesly Girls College (all of them I believe)! They were all screaming so loud and jumping up and down holding signs that said "Kiss Me I'm going to be a Chemist" or "Kiss Me! I'm going to be Meteorologist," or "Kiss Me and Run Faster!". While it was a fun spectacle to see I kept to the middle of the road as to not get caught up and slowed by the eagerness of others taking them up on the offer.

Easily crossing the Half Marathon mark and blowing through the 16 mile mark the next landmark was Christie who was supposed to be waiting to see me at mile 18. I starting looking for her green jacket at mile 17, but the problem was that all the volunteer jackets were the same color green. I spent the next 3 miles looking for green jackets and just when I had given up on seeing her in the masses of people, there she was at mile 20. After a quick hello I ran on to look for the infamous Heartbreak Hill which I had read was at mile 21.5.

I was keeping a pretty good clip when a lady passed me just blazing it and I sped up and ran with her and complimented her on her pace. And she told me she wanted to crush heartbreak hill. I responded that I couldn't wait to tackle it as well. She looked over at me and said, "Honey, this is it, we're almost done, there's the top!" Then I looked down and saw chalk drawings of hearts with cracks and saw a guy pounding a drum at the top of the "hill" to simulate the "Heart beat." I guess running in Middle Tennessee has redefined my expectations of hills. I thought to myself, if this is as tough as it gets, I've got it!

I've said it before and it still holds true, the greatest part of a Marathon is not when you finish but when you realize you're going to finish. That happened to me at mile 24. My legs were tired, but so is everyone else's. My quads were sore, but I could tell they weren't going to cramp. I saw the famous Citgo Sign meaning there was 1 mile left, and after taking inventory of my body, I felt pretty darn good! I took off because This Is Boston! The coveted Boston Marathon where people strive and claw and strain themselves to even get the opportunity to pin on a Boston bib. I wanted to leave with no regrets.

The last part of the course was winding until I finally turned the corner to see the finish line and I gave it all I had even though a new personal best time was in the bag. Now, at that point my "all out" may not have looked like much, but I was wide open, and when I crossed the finish line I was so glad it was over, not because I wanted to quit, but I was so happy that I could say I gave it my all at The Boston Marathon.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My First Triathlon

In my First Triathlon I ever competed in (2001), I only entered because my friend and I thought that 3 sports in 1 day sounded pretty fun. I’d done some Marathons and Half Marathons and went into this challenge with a little bit of swagger.  Knew I could run, and had been practicing swimming and biking on a bike I had bought at a garage sale for $75, needless to say… you get what you pay for. I swear this bike weighed 30 pounds; a literal Mack Truck compared to my 15 pound all carbon bike I ride today (worth more than $75).

The evening before and the morning of the race, I treated the sprint distance triathlon like I would a Marathon. I carb-loaded on pasta and bread and rice the evening before and stuffed my face with more carbs like Danishes, cereal, bagels and more Danishes at the continental breakfast the morning of. I probably consumed 2000 calories that morning for a race that might burn 500.

The swim was 400 meters, the bike was 15 miles and the run was 3 miles. I survived the swim and the bike ok and now it was time to run, I could show these grasshoppers what an 18 minute 5K looked like. I took off out of transition looking like a champ, passing 70 year old women and 12 year old boys like they were standing still. Yes, they were beating me up until that point, but triathlon is won on the run, right? That’s when I began to feel the twinge in my legs, calves, hips and butt.

I was no stranger to the cramping that my body can deliver on a long run, but I figured this was a shorter distance and I should have been just fine. But soon my right leg wouldn’t bend and I was running straight legged until my butt muscles stopped working and I came to a standing halt. I couldn’t move. I was standing in the middle of the race course and couldn’t lift my legs to step forward, backwards or to the side. I was stuck. That’s when 70 year old women and 12 year old boys starting passing me like I was standing still.

Finally a volunteer boy scout in his red kerchief came over to see if I was okay, and I used his shoulder to get a move on again, and I was able to hobble straight legged for the last mile of the race to the finish line. After that I continued to cramp in such prestigious races as the New York Marathon, California Half Ironman, Arizona Marathon, Nashville Triathlon and other such notable events.

I have since become a smarter runner, triathlete and Coach. One of the ways was using Sport Nutritionist Mari-Etta Parrish who has all but rid me of such issues and my training has dramatically improved. Not only did she give me the wisdom and knowledge to help me train and complete my first Full Ironman cramp free and nail my goal time, but was I eating 5000 calories a day to prepare and still lost 14 pounds in the process. (I thought I didn’t have much more to lose).  Nutrition is the master key to unlock our human potential.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

7 miles in the snow

The Weather Team in Nashville can be hit and miss on their predictions, but they nailed this one. After a warm beautiful morning, we got dumped on with Snow on this Wednesday afternoon. 

By late afternoon all my evening appointments had cancelled, and when I looked out my studio window the business park was a parking lot. The streets were bumper to bumper with cars not moving. That when a stroke of multitask genius hit me. I could get in my daily training run AND arrive home much faster than I could drive.

Because I'm a total run geek, I had some cold weather running gear with me, and without hesitation I was dressed and out the door. I know I thrive on the adversity. Last week's 14 miler in the driving rain and today's 7 miler in the snow is going to have me more than ready for my next race, Boston this April.

- now I know you're thinking, "I've seen Christopher run before, and how on Earth did he get a Boston slot?" I got in because I have no shame, and asked a friend who knows a guy, who's dentist fixed a crown on a guy who knows somebody who could get me a slot. Yes, it's that easy. -

Starting my run in the snow I felt fast as I flew past all the cars at a stand still. It was cool to be the first footprints in the freshly fallen snow. It wasn't till I was about 3 miles in that I came upon another set of footprints. It looked to be another runner, with small feet probably a female.  And judging by the even trajectory of the snow particles around the footprint she looked to be a mid-sole striker... Very impressive. I soon saw a second pair of footprints as I entered a new city block, but they eventually turned in toward the liquor store. (Not a terrible idea.)

This hilly run home is no easy walk in the park. There are 5 huge hills, and these aren't your grandma's hills. These are the Tennessee hills that country music songs are about. As you can imagine, there were many-a-car having troubles getting up the hills and sliding all over the place. It was so nice for my health, strength and endurance to help so many people push their cars up the hills and out of ditches.

A trainer at my gym said it took him 3 hrs to drive 8 miles home. I don't know how long it took me, but I wasn't running for time and it didn't take me anywhere near 3 hrs. I've learned I love to run when there is no watch involved. I just run. I like that I ran for practicality and got to help people as well. Maybe now I can justify all the money I spend on shoes, bikes, coaches, gear and races because I made it home in time for dinner.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ironman Florida 2010

In long distance racing, there is a place in each race called "The Line." Its different from "The Wall." The Wall you hit and it slows you down, but you eventually recover and move on. When you hit The Line, your day is done and you walk it in. The Line wants to move close to you, and in long course racing, you strategize your training, your racing and feelings to keep  pushing The Line further away. That was my focus and my mantra on race day.... "Push back The Line."

Standing on Panama City Beach at 7 in the morning in my black wet suit and red swim cap, I looked exactly like 2000 others. You couldn't distinguish me from anyone else, and strangely, I felt comfort in that. I wasn't nervous or tense, but excited as Van Halen's Panama blared around us, and while the helicopters buzzed overhead, I made small talk with the other crazies around me. I kept to the middle of the group, because I am not a fast swimmer, but also didn't want to be swimming over top of people. But as soon as the cannon boomed and the swimmers cheered as we all ran into the water, I was ready to get this thing underway that had been 7 months of training for me. And after 7 months of swim teams and swim lessons and perfecting my technique, once I hit the water it was all immediately out the window! It was 2000 people flailing and kicking and stroking and frog kicking and trying to survive. It was honestly 30min before I took a complete stroke without hitting someone's foot, head, back, leg or butt. I kept having an image of a bunch carp at a spillway climbing over each other, clamoring for a piece of bread or food. Chaotic would be an understatement, but I couldn't help from laughing at the absurdity of it all and just made the best of it.

It was a two loop course, so after you complete the first loop you run onto the sand and over a timing mat to counted and back into the water to complete the second loop. After much more organized chaos and catching one really hard heel to my cheekbone,  I was exiting the water making my way to the wet suit strippers. You sit your butt in the sand and these volunteers had perfected the art of ripping your wet suit off your body in seconds and sending you through the showers and to the transition area.

Running through the tunnel hollering my race number, a volunteer grabbed my transition bag I had prepared the night before with all my cycling gear in it, handed it to me and I never had to break stride while running into the Men's changing area. Again, I was one of 100's in various stages of getting dressed and right away another volunteer started pulling out all my stuff and handing it to me, and helping me get my jersey on and stuffing my wet suit into a bag....it was so nice. And a few seconds later I was out the changing room door and to my bike again hollering my race number. Yet another volunteer pulled out my bike for me and ran along side me with my bike and I never had to break stride. Now it was time to push back The Line.

At the very beginning of my ride, I went to take my first drink of my carefully prepared "anti cramping" concoction. As I pulled the nozzle of my water bottle up with my teeth, the top of the bottle came off in my mouth and the bottom part with all the liquid fell to the side of the road! What a way to start, but luckily I had another bottle full with me and would be fine until the first water station. I felt like a million bucks on the bike, which is a blessing and curse. I'm not a slow cyclist, and I had to exercise a lot of patience and discipline to go the pace I had decided upon and not faster. What helped achieve that goal was the intense wind, cross wind, and head wind which seemed to always be in my face. Ug. Nothing steals my momentum and joy like cycling into the wind. I had to make a choice to stay positive and just stay relaxed. The things that helped me pass the time were making small talk (mostly about the wind) with the people around me from Jersey, Phili, Canada, France, Australia and a plethora of other places. Before I knew it, I was at the halfway point in record time and I wasn't sure what to think of that, but I was pretty sure I had stayed comfortable and relaxed the whole time.

At the halfway point on the bike you have a Special Needs bag waiting on you that you prepare the day before with anything you can think of that may be practical or a treat. Since I couldn't fit my massage therapist into my bag, I decided on my favorite food in the world.... BBQ chips. I hadn't eaten them in 7 months, or had any sugar or alcohol. Having my chips at the halfway point and a Bud and KitKat at the finish was a fun motivation as well. I ate a few chips but actually wanted to save them, because I have a history of hitting The Wall about mile 80 on my rides.

Sure enough, around mile 75 I started to fade. I knew it was coming... the wind was really starting to irk me, I couldn't get comfortable, and any little thing was irritating me. I knew I was in the "bite-me zone". I could have been told I was a powerball lottery winner, and in that moment I would have told the guy to 'Bite-Me!" I knew it was coming and I was in it, and I decided to eat my feelings and crunched on some chips. And then as we were coming up on an aid station I had decided to pass by it, however a cyclist a few yards in front of me decided to head towards the aid station, off the road, through the grass and slam into the table full of water! Head over handle bars he went! While there was enough people around that I didn't feel the need to stop and help, I did feel that I had a better race strategy than he did, and that kind of brought me out of the bite me zone and I was feeling much better.

Soon I started to recognize landmarks and places I had passed at the beginning of the ride and could see the host hotel towering in the horizon and I knew I was almost done. For the last 20 miles I was able to maintain my goal pace and felt myself regaining my energy and pushing The Line way back.

Coming into transition, again, a volunteer grabbed my bike from me and I headed straight over to the Mens changing area where they bagged up my stuff for me, pulled out my run gear, put on my running shoes and I was out again in a few minutes onto the run portion.... Thank goodness.

My strategy was to loaf for the first 5 miles. We all have a tendency to be so excited to get on the run and off the bike that we go out too fast and that will do us in later on. So keeping a very conservative pace, I was able to take in all the festivities and signs people made like "You are Strong," "Time to Fly" and "Holy S***, you're doing an Ironman!" The crowds were amazing and everyone would holler my name which was on my race bib. I saw my wife and all the wives of my companions chanting my name and it was so encouraging. Every mile had a different water stop, and each one was a party. Each group of people had a different theme, from people dressed as clowns, and renaissance themes, and cheerleaders and even one group of scantily clad women dressed like cats. They all made the run go by quickly and made it fun.

At mile 5 I had taken it easy and felt great, and now it was time for me to go, at about the same time I saw others beginning to stop and walk. After picking up the pace, I felt so good, but the doubts about The Line began to creep in. I have always battled cramping issues on long races, and had done everything to the "T" on the day to prevent the cramping, but didn't know if it would be enough having never done this distance before. I kept moving and made it to the halfway point feeling great! You are once again handed a Special Needs bag that I had prepared and threw on my long sleeve shirt as it had began to get cold.

Able to keep my pace, I ran with a guy from Jersey for about 8 miles who had practiced the same philosophy as I did until I began to hit The Wall (but it didn't feel like The Line) about mile 20. A volunteer put a Coke Cola into my hand which, honestly I hadn't had in years....and even then, if I did have it had some Jack in it. WOW! New life! I drank another and I was unstoppable, and off I went. Shortly after that I ran upon a friend I hadn't seen in 10 years. This was the man, no lie, who had actually introduced me to triathlon. I remember him telling me 10 years ago that one day I should work up to doing an Ironman as he told me about his great stories from his Ironmans he had completed. And here he was, doing the same race as me....it was a big moment for me. However, he was fading, and I was gaining momentum and he told me to go on.

The sun had set, it was now dark and the crowds weren't as thick as they were 4 hours before. But staying positive and high-fiving each volunteer that I saw, I finally saw the 23 mile marker and could hear the announcer in the distance saying people's names and "....You are an Ironman!" To me, the best and most emotional part of a race isn't the finish, but it's when you realize you're going to finish. At that moment, I realized I was going to finish and I had pushed The Line 140.6 miles to the finish line! I picked up the pace even more and was flying. Now to a spectator I may have looked like I was at a snail's pace, but make no mistake, I was wide-open baby. Though my legs were heavy, my spirit had wings and I must have passed 100 people in the last 2 miles. The lights grew brighter and the finish line towers were in my sites. I crossed a sign on the ground that read "You are a Champion" and then I heard the announcer say those coveted words...."Christopher McClintock! You Are An Ironman!"

I want to thank so many supportive people that made this journey and goal possible. My cycling groups, running and track companions, my staff at Personal Best Fitness, my clients and their big goals and encouragement, my coach The (one and only) TriSwami, my sports nutritionist Marietta, my parents and inlaws for encouragement and watching kids, my great friend who supported me by riding 140 miles on his bike trainer the same day, and especially my supportive wife and family who sacrificed my being away so much of the time, helping to keep me fed (5000 calories a day), and putting up with me falling asleep on the couch every night. 

Ironman is more than simply crossing a finish line, it is more about the person you become during the process and the realizations you encounter. It is a life accomplishment that no one can ever take away from you and will be part of my obituary one day. Once you are an Ironman, as their slogan says, Anything is Possible.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chicago Marathon 2007

Chicago was a very surreal experience. A beautiful city full of history, architecture and energy, unfortunately it wasn’t the best of days.
I’ve been coaching Marathons for Team In Training for 6 years, and Race morning, as I always do, I got my people to the race, in their corrals, and then took off before the race starts to meet my participants usually around mile 3. They really don’t need me anymore and don’t need much encouragement until about mile 16-22, but this being my first trip to Chicago and first time at the hallowed Chicago Marathon, I opted to run the course and run with as many of my participants as I could. I didn’t want to miss anything. The weather was forecasted to be the hottest on record for that date and for the Chicago Marathon.
I was hanging out by the first water stop at mile 3, when I saw the first participants on my team and hopped into the race to run with them. I ran with them for about 2 miles and the fanfare was great, the atmosphere was warm, and the mood was exciting.  I met up with my next participants about mile 5 and they were frustrated already…  “Where’s the water on this course?” was the first words out of their mouth.  When I asked why they didn’t get any at the first water stop at mile 3, they informed they that the water had run out before they got there. Fortunately, there was a water stop at the next mile (mile 6) where they could rehydrate and hopefully begin to catch up on their already dehydrated, overheated bodies.
The water had run out again.
As soon as people realized that, once again, there was no water available… there was immediate tension in the air. All around us, runners were popping open their cell phones and screaming to their spouses, brothers, anyone who would listen, to meet them ASAP at mile 7 and bring some water! (There were many creative expletives intertwined in these cell phone conversations.) I knew right then, this day was not going to go well.  I ran forwards and backwards on the course trying to find as many of my people as possible to tell them to change their strategy.
At mile 10 I found one of my runners, who was one of the better athletes on the team. He had never walked the entire season of training and he was struggling to keep running. After pushing through another mile running together, he finally had had enough and begrudgingly gave into walking. He was upset with himself and wanted to be alone so I told him that I’d be back in 10-15 minutes to check in on him, and then I ran ahead.
I stopped at mile 15 to begin to watch for my runners again, and I noticed an odd site. Nearly everyone was walking. Then I saw the 4:30 pace runner walking as well as everyone around him. I had never seen this many people walking this early in the race, and it struck me as very odd and out of place. As I was trying to rationalize what I was witnessing, a girl in Ohio State Buckeye garb stopped right beside me to puke her guts out. After a short break I helped her over to the Medic Tent (still dry-heaving) to sit her down. The Medic Tent was full and there was nowhere to sit her down except on the curb in the shade. I went to get her some ice to cool down with but the Medic Tent had run out of ice as well. Right away, however, a store owner ran over a pitcher of ice to her and to the Medic Tent.
I began to notice, that the spectators had begun to realize the severity of what was occurring and were doing their best to help out their fellow man. They were running out of their apartments and stores with Aquifina  and Deer Park Bottles of water, they were hooking up their hoses and spraying it into the streets, they were bringing out bags of ice and cold towels, anything to help. While what the Chicagoans did that day truly helped the situation, some were too late to help. As I continued to run ahead, I stopped time and time again to help people to the Medic Tents with locked up legs, with vomiting, with heat exhaustion and who knows what else. All the while I was keeping my eyes peeled for those purple jerseys from Tennessee who were my participants. I knew they should have been by by now, but hadn’t seen any of them.
I took a break to stand in the shade at mile 19 when I saw the Chicago Police Officers begin to walk onto the race course with both hands raised and begin to tell people to stop running. “Stop running, Stop running, the race has been called. You must walk now, the race is over.” The Chicago PD was polite but firm and adamant about not letting anyone run. The race was over. They had stopped the race. The Chicago Marathon, on its 30th anniversary, was called off. I had seen firsthand the severity of the situation, but had no idea the weight of the moment until we were told to stop running and proceed to the nearest Medic Tent to board a bus that would take us to the finish line. My problem still remained… where were my people?
I began to back track from mile 19 through every med tent looking for my participants; however, there was no one around.  Soon I was the only living soul on the streets of Chicago. Here I was amidst these tall city buildings, on the race course that supposedly only 20 minutes ago had held 45,000 runners and 1 million spectators, and I was by myself. It was the most eerie feeling I ever had. Finally I saw 2 people walking toward me, and it was a Local News crew from NBC. Walking right up to me they asked, “How disappointed are you in the city of Chicago today?” and then stuck the microphone in my face for my response. I tried to stay positive and remain diplomatic, and soon was on my way to find my people.  On my way I would see a runner here and there who was determined to finish 26.2 miles no matter what. I also saw Chicago PD threatening to take those runners into custody if they didn’t “cease from running immediately!” I couldn’t believe it had come to a cease-running-or-go-to-jail kind of day.
After checking every runner filled Medic Tent from mile 19-15 without seeing any of my people, I assumed that they had hopped a bus and were back at the Team In Training Tent where we were supposed to meet. After another 2 mile walk back to the start line, I continue on to the Team In Training tent to see that only 6 of my 14 runners had checked in. Soon after I received the information that one of my runners (the guy I never found) was in the hospital due to dehydration along with 300+ other race participants on the day. Later I learned the reason they stopped the race was because they had run out of ambulances to take people to the hospitals! However, after a few IV’s of fluid, my participant was out in about 1 hour and doing fine.
My people eventually all trickled in and were okay. They were disappointed about the day, and some felt all their preparation they had done was wasted, while at the same time understood the severity of the situation. As well, we have the confidence of knowing that we raised almost $2.5 million for cancer research that race. We’ve all decided to do another race one soon. This is one for the books, and never to be forgotten  in my coaching and running career.
1 million spectators;  45,000 runners;  1500 Team In Training participants; 14 from Tennessee; enough water on a race course?… priceless.