I arrived to the Alpine Inn on Friday night after fighting through some blood sugar lows on my drive up to Lake Placid. Coach Egg had told the team about me before I arrived so most knew who I was before I introduced myself. The plan was to ride the last 11 miles of the bike course (toughest part) on Friday evening before dinner; however my blood sugars were totally uncooperative so I had to wait an extra hour before starting my ride, in the pouring rain (a recurring theme for the weekend). Friday night I continued to fight off lows but was ready to tackle the full 112 miles of the bike course Saturday morning.
Saturday was my greatest test as a triathlete yet. I'm tremendously hard on myself, I'm constantly worried I'm not doing enough to accomplish my goal and am driven by the thought that someone out there is out working me, but more importantly that I have to constantly prove to myself that I can accomplish anything. On Saturday I had a complete blood sugar debacle and seriously contemplated throwing in the towel. When I had to cut off 14 miles of the course, stop for an hour to wait for my blood sugars to rebound and completely failed that days test I wasn't sure if all of this was worth it anymore. I had, had what seemed like my 200th low in the past 3 days, was cranky, tired, hungry and frustrated and wasn't sure what I had left in my heart. At one point I sat down on a guard rail and watched the entire Tri-Life team pass by me I had so much doubt enter my mind and truly wondered if this disease was defeating me. But when I pulled into that parking lot where we started our ride and had several teammates ask me if I was ok meant the world to me. I had never met any of these people prior to Friday but I felt like they really cared, as someone who has now logged probably 1,000 hours of training alone, having that support network of people going through the same thing, with the same issues, with the same frustrations without diabetes let me know I'm not alone in this and that the disease isn't what gives me the doubts, it's the sport that provides all the doubt anyone needs.
Sunday began to provide the mental break through Coach Egg was praying I'd have. After eating over 600g of carbs on Saturday my blood sugars still weren't fully stabilized, but my glycogen reserves were filled. My athletic confidence slowly returned while I tackled the hills of the LP run course. 11 miles into a 15 mile run I slapped my hands together which may have scared small children, old women and my Coach started to shed the previous weeks' weight off my shoulders. My desire to dominate returned, for me that is the single most important aspect of my athletic personality. Not necessarily dominate my competition (although crushing anyone wearing orange & red would be nice) but more the ability to dominate any doubt in my mind that I can finish a competition to the best of my ability. When the smile returned to my face, that desire returned to my soul.
Since I didn't get to ride the full bike course on Saturday I decided to stay at Lake Placid an extra day. This allowed me to get in a 20 yard swim in Mirror Lake Sunday afternoon. Breathing in freezing cold water was still freaking me out so I wanted to hop in the coldest water I could find. Mirror Lake was maybe 50 degrees and all I wanted to do was swim to the first buoy and back (about 10 yards in each direction). With a whimper on each exhale in the water I swam the 20 yards as quickly as I could, but I swam, not gracefully but WAY better than what I showed at Bassman.
My decision to stay the extra night to attempt the 112 miles on my bike was perhaps the best thing I've done throughout this entire training process. When I decided to do that, I knew there was no way diabetes or triathlon was going to defeat my desire to conquer this course. If I didn't admit that I thought I was bat shit crazy during the first climb headed out of Lake Placid, I'd be lying. I wondered, aloud, why the hell I was going to subject myself to a 6 or 7 hour bike ride and was scared to death of any blood sugar issues. But as I climbed out of LP and into Keene my legs felt lighter, my body felt looser and my mind felt tighter; the inner athlete was returning. (as a side note my rear wheel wasn't filled up all the way on Saturday - yeah that didn't help either!) My heart rate probably spiked to 500 during the decent into Keene (god I hate that part of the course), but entered 9N into Jay I found the speed I'm so used to achieving on my bike - for the entire stretch of 9N I was over 20 mph and felt like I was in my comfort zone back on 9W (my weekly long ride). Each 1/2 hour I had my watch set to go off to remind me to eat; on each loop I had 2 bottles of my nutrition mix and 1 cilf bar (1st loop builder bar, 2nd loop regular clif bar) so I took in about 250 grams of carbs per loop; will probably pop that to 300 grams on the second loop so I go into the run with extra carbs.
At the start of my second loop it started to pour and for a good 10 minutes I thought about turning around, but of course being the stubborn, determined idiot that I am I kept pushing and willing myself to go further. My blood sugar had spiked to above 300 at one point which led to some nasty feelings but I was able to correct and continue. The decent on this loop was terrifying, in driving rain, howling wind and heavy traffic I gripped my rear break for dear life and didn't allow myself to go over 20.5 mph - even with this I still negative split the bike!!!!!!! I think when I determined to push forward was when whatever was holding me back went away. I don't think I've ever ridden harder or better than the last 40 miles of that course. On 9N my speeds on the flats were upwards of 25 mph and I felt fantastic, I was keeping my mph around 10 mph on the climbs and I freaking flew on the out and back. My first lap was done in 3:33 and my second lap in 3:27.
Perhaps that terrifying decent was exactly what I needed to get over my demons. It was during that decent that I realized in Ironman the goal shouldn't be becoming the next Macca or Craig Alexander, that this sport isn't like football where the only thing that matters is winning the game. This sport is all about the journey, it is all about the reasons why we are testing ourselves for 10 to 17 hours, it's not about who gets the 140.6 done the quickest, it's about conquering whatever it is that made us sign up for the 140.6 in the first place. During that decent I realized for the first time that I signed up for this to destroy diabetes for one day, to prove to myself that the 285 lbs individual I became after my college football career was over is long behind me, to show that this disease does not define me and to finally have the belief in myself that all my dreams are within reach. In the past I had always said my goals were to "provide inspiration for others," while that is still very much true the driving force behind that goal is the inner struggle that I've faced ever since my team lost to Widener 41 - 14 in the 2nd round of the NCAA playoffs in 2000. Getting into Darden was the first step in the return to believing in myself, crossing that finish line will be the final step. This weekend let me realize why this journey is so important to me. Nothing can describe how I feel better than this view I had driving out of Lake Placid: