Sunday, September 7, 2008

Some Races Just Take Guts!

Of the few Ironman races I have started, I always wonder at the starting line if this will be the race, which I will face disaster, an unavoidable event out of my control that results in implosion and blows my race apart. When I cross the finish line part of the emotion I feel when I raise my fist in the air is relief, because nothing went terribly wrong and I finished strong.

When I started coaching athletes this year, I tried to guide them away from potential disaster and help them through my experiences to have a solid race.

One thing that I like to do which most might find somewhat compulsive, is my race blueprint. My race is scripted. It’s a booklet that I have put together. I have everything planned out concerning pace, nutrition, fluid consumption, what to do when X, Y or Z occur. It’s something that I have put together through the years and continue to make additions. A lot of the information has been gathered off the internet and from other athlete’s race reports. It’s a script for the “perfect race.” I review it for a few weeks and days up to the race just as an actor might remember his lines. I gave my latest copy to my athletes and let them configure their own blueprint.

Last week, Matt Carnal, an athlete I coach raced IMKY. Matt had been training for this event for a year and was doing great until an uncontrollable situation occurred during the peak of his training phase. Matt works for a company called SemGroup .They made some risky bets in the futures markets, which resulted margin calls and within a week of the news breaking, bankruptcy.

SemGroup was a great company to work for because they valued employee physical fitness. They had a tremendous health club in their building, which was more posh than anything else was in town. Matt was well rewarded for his athletic participation with sponsorship from the company. He was the model employee.

Bankruptcy resulted in SemGroup terminating 110 Tulsa employees and, unfortunately, one of them was Matt. This came as quite a shock. Priorities quickly changed and so did Matt’s focus. I felt so sorry for him. He had worked so hard and for this to happen, just as he was heading into the home stretch was a real bummer. I think making a race blueprint and thinking about his race plan was the furthest from his mind.

Before Matt left for Louisville, I sat him down and went over a plan but there is no way that you can cover all the bases in 15 minutes.

Matt had some company along on his trip, Sean Stevens; another athlete that I coach went to the race with him. Sean brought his mountain bike so he could offer some verbal support at various positions along the course. In addition, he helped share some of the drive time going home.

On race day, I was on the computer with my cell phone texting splits and coaching advice to Sean and he was able to relay it to Matt. It was a slick operation. I was the “Chance Command Center” at the home office in Tulsa, OK and Sean was my patrolman.

Matt’s race went just as planned for the swim and the bike. He was off the bike in around 15th place in his age group and his weapon is the run. I was confident that Matt had a 3:20 or faster marathon in his legs. He had done some badass long runs after long bikes at 7:00 pace in the humid Tulsa heat so I was feeling pretty stoked. I felt that when Matt hit that run he would unleash his fury. I was looking forward to watch him move through the field on the split grid. I felt he might be able to go under 10 hours. A top five age group placing and a Kona slot were within his reach.

I was texting splits to Sean that Matt should adhere to prevent him from going out too fast and I was informing him of the carnage that was happening to his fellow competitors ahead of him up the road. Then I got a direct call from Sean and he told me Matt wasn’t feeling too well. GI problems, gas, bloating, and dysentery “It’s not good” Sean said. I gave Sean all the information I could to help Matt get through this bad patch but the pace still didn’t improve. I was racing vicariously through Matt this year. It was disappointing. I wanted so badly for him to succeed and get a Kona slot his first time out, but sometimes shit happens and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.

There are a number of reasons that he had GI problems but I won’t go into all of them now. All that matters is that Matt finished his first Ironman in 11:01, despite his problems in the race and on the home front. He finished 14th in his age group under very difficult conditions. Not bad for a first timer. Chalk it up to experience. I guess its back to the drawing board to figure out how to manage his nutrition for next time.

I have often asked top age group athletes, why do you continue to race? What drives you? Their answer is almost unanimously, “I have yet to have that perfect race.”

I wonder if the entity of the “perfect race” even exists. It sure would be great to experience it if did.

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