468 Days After I Was Diagnosed With Type 1 Diabetes I Became An Ironman!
On July 23rd, 2007 I made the decision to compete at Ironman Lake Placid. On July 23rd, 2007 I made the decision to bring my fight against diabetes to the battle field I'm most comfortable on - the one of sport. My 357 day journey to becoming an Ironman was filled with challenge after challenge. I learned to believe in myself again, I learned that a disease can not prevent me from reaching my goals and I learned that the strength I have always felt I had in my heart and my soul exists in reality and not just in my mind. The 357 day journey ended in the most incredible 5 miles I have ever run:
I arrived in Lake Placid the Wednesday night before the race; town was still quiet and the energy that engulfs this town for IM week was not yet at full force. My favorite triathlete and I were able to have dinner together in the center of town while we talked about everything but the race. Thursday morning I had a one loop practice swim in Mirror Lake and then it was time to register! The energy of the town was starting to build; when I wore my silver competitor bracelet for the first time the challenge I was about to face hit me smack in the face as the butterflies in my stomach started to flutter.
Friday was a fairly relaxed day with another practice swim, a quick jog and lots of rest. Saturday was when I really began to freak out, I think the most stressful part of the entire experience was packing my transition bags and checking my bike.
I think that look on my face is me holding back vomit.
Saturday night I took out my chemistry set (aka nutrition supplements) and laid out my entire race plan:
With my excel spreadsheet in hand I measured out the combinations needed to have success with my blood sugars on race day. Each zip lock bag had a specific purpose for the 20th. My hands shook as I knew if I lost one bag or made a mistake disaster would strike on race day. As a diabetic this was the most important portion of my race.
My alarm went off at 4am on Sunday July 20th, I woke relaxed, confident and excited for the endeavor I was about to face. Armed with my race strategy I ate 2 pieces of whole wheat toast with almond butter at 4:15 am, hopped in Steve's car and was driven to transition:
At 6:45 am I finished off my pre-race nutrition, loaded a power gel into my swim cap and hopped into Mirror Lake for a quick warm up. As I walked across the lake to find a good spot to start the race I heard someone scream out "Ed!" - Sarah a teammate of mine on Train-This was frantically looking for anyone she knew to start the swim with; our nerves were eased a bit by the huge hug we gave each other as I told her "I'm going to swim the entire first lap with you." She didn't think this was possible as the Mirror Lake swim is pretty much a huge cluster F but I came to find out after the race the hands that kept grabbing my feet were hers!
Mid-way through each swim lap I had to yank a power gel from my cap to ensure solid blood sugars. During the first lap if you stop in the water you risk getting swam over by about 1,000 people. After I rounded the turn I swam with my left arm, kicked as hard as I could and pulled my power gel from my cap and ripped it open with my teeth under water; instead of breathing for one stroke sequence I squeezed the chocolate goodness into my mouth and swallowed as hard as I could - success! As I exited the water after my first lap I ran to the medical table to test my blood sugars and was at a happy 170, I took some of my EFS drink and popped another power gel into my swim cap before returning to Mirror Lake.
My second lap was much more relaxed than my first, the crowds began to thin out and I was able to stay away from the fight for the line. Around the turn I treaded water as one of the awesome volunteers took my power gel wrapper from the comfort of his kayak. As I emerged from the water I couldn't have been happier with how my swim went.
Swim Results: 1 Hour 19 Minutes and 54 Seconds - 6 seconds under my goal time!!!!!!
Swim Grade: A+; by far the best swim I have had in any of the 3 triathlons in my triathlete career!
I jogged to T1, found my swim to bike transition bag, tossed on my bike gear and headed out for my first loop of the course. In the future I'm going to have to take these transitions at a less leisurely pace but my goal for the Ironman was to enjoy myself and just finish - to accomplish that goal of becoming an Ironman; I have plenty of years to worry about improving my time and focusing on the athletic aspects of Ironman - Sunday was all about my fight with diabetes. So my T1 time of 9:55 was god awful but doesn't bother me at all.
With my first pedal stroke I knew I was on my way to a great first loop on the bike - I however forgot to test before heading out, this would serve to be a huge mistake. I climbed the hill on route 76 with ease, as I passed Kim I shouted out "whose that sexy triathlete," and her smile made the day that much greater. While she yelled at me to "not hammer" I smiled and said "I'm not," - I simply couldn't believe how freaking good I felt on my bike at this point. Everything seemed to be going perfect - until after the descent into Keane. I still felt fantastic but the rain had really started to come down, huge rain drops fell into my vial of test strips when I pulled over to test rendering my meter useless. For the rest of the first loop I would ride blind not knowing if my blood sugar was spot on, high or low; for me this was my worst nightmare come true.
I stayed true to my race plan as I was incredibly anxious about my blood sugars. I was a bit faster than the race plan on route 9N but my cadence and effort were spot on. As I was surrounded by a ton of disc wheels and seriously awesome bikes I knew I was hanging with some big dawgs and just enjoyed the ride. After the turn on the out & back I began to hold back a bit to save my legs for the last 11 miles. I passed by my rental house with my Parents, Sister and Moose cheering me on - with a huge fist pump and a smile they knew what I knew, my day was going perfectly. I stayed in my little ring from the end of the out and back through Special Needs - kept an incredible pace and felt really fresh.
First Bike Loop Results: 3 Hours 13 Minutes - right on my goal pace! 17.39 MPH and I knew I had a ton left in the tank for my second loop.
FIRST BIKE LOOP GRADE: A+, TRUE TO RACE STRATEGY!
At special needs I was finally able to test, my heart sunk when I saw 107 on my blood sugar meter - I tried to convince myself that my sample was diluted from the rain or that because of the last 11 miles I was artificially low, but I knew how I felt and I knew I was going low. The first aid station on the bike course was after a 5 mile climb out of Lake Placid. I knew if I could make it to that aid station I'd be able to test again and get an emergency Gatorade into my system. Shaking the cob webs of a low out of my head I climbed as conservatively as I could, too much effort and I was in serious danger of passing out. I finally reached the aid station, and was devastated to get an Error 2 on my meter - wet test strips AGAIN! I pounded the Gatorade as quickly as I could then willed myself to keep going - there was no way diabetes was going to stop me on this day.
After the descent I again pulled over on 9N to test and again received an Error 2, 5 consecutive times on 2 different meters - flying blind and feeling low was a disaster waiting to happen but the only way I was leaving this course without finishing was if someone physically removed me; I refused to be defeated by screwed up medical equipment and low blood sugars. Diabetes was trying to conquer me but it was time to show the world what "Ring The Bolus" means - fight tooth and nail to get the job done.
Kim caught up to me and shouted out "are you ok?" I finished my first bike loop 20 minutes before her but had given all that time back in less than 20 miles. In all honesty if she hadn't caught me on the bike I don't think I would have been able to finish the second loop. I don't remember much of that ride at all, I just remember thinking at least if I go down she'll be there to get me help. I kept pace with Kim, using her as my security blanket. Each time we'd pass each other I'd say something to her, not to talk but just to make sure words could come out of my mouth - in the face of a really low blood sugar I often can't structure sentences, I knew if I could at least crack a joke or say something I wasn't below a blood sugar of 50.
I saved as much of my nutrition as I could for the last 6 miles of the second bike loop where the 2 cherries and 3 bears live; this was the portion of the course that could lead to a disaster with my blood sugars. 2 miles before I hit Little Cheery my chain flew off my rear cog and wrapped around my wheel hub - one more pedal stroke and my chain would have snapped - to the girl who yelled to me to "DON'T PEDAL!!!!!!" thank you a 1,000 times over - you saved my race. Something happened to my rear derailleur and the only cogs that seemed to work smoothly were my 21, and 22 rings - most people will ride the bears in their easiest rear cog possible - I didn't have that option. After I pounded nearly half a bottle of nutrition prior to Little Cherry I was ready to climb. By the time I got to Papa Bear I was laser locked on my goal - some guy shouted out in a raspy voice "YOU'RE AN ANIMAL!!!!" as I grunted up Papa Bear just hoping my Coach wouldn't see me hammering my a** off to finish the second loop of the bike course.
First Bike Loop Results: 3 Hours 32 Minutes - 15.82 mph
FIRST BIKE LOOP GRADE: B, Fell Off My Goal Pace Considerably But Salvaged A Decent Time And Avoided Disaster
Final Bike Result: 6 Hours 45 Minutes - 16.57 mph; 1389 out of 2,340 and 94 out of 127 in my age group
BIKE GRADE: B+, Goal Was Sub 6:30 But Riding Blind I'll Take 6:45!
I tested in T2 and again had a blood sugar reading of 107; I had smartly put a vial of test strips in each of my transition and special needs bags for a worst case scenario - the weather on Sunday was THE WORST CASE SCENARIO. I pounded my emergency bottle of EFS prior to heading out for the run, loaded my fuel belt and left transition to face the 26.2 miles that stood between me becoming an Ironman.
I felt incredibly strong during the first portion of the run and had believed I was well on my way to a sub 4:30 marathon. I forced myself to slow my pace from the 7:30 minute/ mile pace I was at to the plan of 9:15 or 9:30. My stride felt strong, my mind felt tight, but after 6 miles I knew something was seriously wrong. As I ran past the Ausable River I looked out and said like a 5 year old "look at the pretty ducks," I was low, seriously low and I couldn't test to find out how low I was - my hands were too wet and I couldn't afford to lose another vial of test strips. I slowed to a walk; thankfully an aid station was less than 1/4 mile away. For the diabetics who read this blog this meter reading will tell you all you need to know:
For those not fully knowledgeable about type 1 diabetes, any blood sugar below 50 can lead to a seizure and diabetic coma. Due to my physiology my blood sugar can drop like a rock traveling at terminal velocity. An extra second of exercise at this point put my life in serious jeopardy (that is not an exaggeration). The amazing volunteer who helped me test gave me 2 cups of oranges and a ton of grapes - 2 very high glycemic fruits. After a minute or two she asked if I wanted to sit down - I told her I just needed to keep going; I grabbed 3 cups of soda from the aid station, drank them as quickly as I could and walked arms folded with the most p*ssed off face I've ever had for 40 minutes. Sarah who was running to a second place finish in her age group passed me and said "come on Ed you can do this," after the race she told me how focused my stare was. Bill, a teammate of mine on Train-This who has seriously become like an older brother to me saw me on the run during this stretch and shouted "Are you ok, Ed?" I shouted back - "No, I'm at 38!" - the look of despair on his face would tell you how incredible of a guy he is.
I passed two more aid stations during my walking stretch and had soda at each of them. Finally I reached "Inspiration Station," hopped under the DJ tent to get out of the rain and tested again 271! I was able to run again - the steps I took to get out of the low, to get back into a safe range worked - at this moment I knew diabetes would not defeat me, that I would become an Ironman!!!!! I left that DJ tent and ran back into town, my body felt awful from the blood sugar roller coaster I was on but on this day my mind was stronger than my body.
I had some major GI issues on the second loop of the run and hit the port-a-potty 7 times! I apologize for anyone who used the port-a-potty after me. The sodium intake in my nutrition plan is based on a running output. When the low blood sugar struck my body couldn't absorb the sodium due to the decreased effort while I walked. I had to abandon my nutrition plan and calculate carbohydrates on the fly - too much salt was in my system forcing me to use the bathroom WAY TOO MANY TIMES. After a run/ walk combo for miles 13 to 20 of the run my stomach and body finally felt good enough to turn it on.
Once I hit mile 21 I knew if I wanted to break 14 hours it was time to call on ghosts of my athletic past, forget about diabetes and just get the damn job done. I ran mile 21 to 22 at an 8:30 pace, mile 22 to 23 at an 8 minute pace and then turned on the jets to close the last 5k of the marathon at a 7 minute pace. Once I hit town I had the confidence to really run because if I happened to hit a low blood sugar there were enough people around to save me. I used the adrenaline from the cheering crowd to close my Ironman with the fury that I attacked the entire training process with. I ran past my fellow competitors with my chest heaving, and legs burning but I refused to slow down - I was going to do this my way, I was going to hammer it home. Past spectator after spectator I heard shouts of "way to go big guy," "looking strong," "holy s you're really running." But 2 moments prior to entering the Olympic oval will stand out in my mind forever, as I ran up "Rich Clark Hill" the Train-This crew was armed with a megaphone and went crazy as they saw me grind it out up the hill, Jeremy (the guy who I ran a large portion of Mooseman with) jogged with me for a 1/10 of a mile, patted me on the back and told me to get it done. Then Jesse Kropelnicki head of QT2 (an incredible triathlon team) and a high school friend of mine jumped out of his chair in front of High Peaks Cycelry and went absolutely crazy as he saw me running with all that I had. Each time I've seen Jesse at triathlons over the past couple of months he has been extremely zen - when he shouted out "YEAH!!! IT'S ALL MENTAL, IT'S ALL BETWEEN YOUR EARS!" he was anything but zen and came over to the dark side - I'll never forget the look on his face as we high fived.
When I entered the Olympic Oval my parents and sister were waiting for me around the first turn - they went absolutely bezerk as I ran past them. Around the final turn I had a huge smile on my face, flapped my arms up to get the crowd to cheer even louder than they already were and heard the words every triathlete wants to hear, Mike Riley saying "Ed Liebowitz You Are An Ironman!"
RUN RESULTS: Negative Split by 9 Minutes, total time 5 hours 31 minutes
RUN GRADE: A+, my time was an hour off my pace but the last 5 miles will always be one of my greatest memories
In my thank you card to Coach Egg I told her I couldn't have asked for a more perfect guide for this voyage. My path to becoming an Ironman wasn't about athletic accomplishments or a particular finishing time - she was the one who led me to that realization. Athletically I accomplished everything I ever wanted to while in college; athletically I'll never have the love for tirathlon that I did for football. Becoming an Ironman isn't about an athletic accomplishment though. This was a journey about diabetes, about redefining how a chronic illness can impact your life. 357 days prior to competing in my first Ironman I had never run more than 10 miles, never swam more than a few hundred times and went on just a few leisurely 50 mile bike rides to get a muffin in Nyack. I faced the worst diabetic demons I could have imaged on Sunday and slayed them with the confidence and dedication I attacked all 357 days with. Coach Egg, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this voyage possible and so incredibly special. I'll thank all those who made this possible in a separate post - but none of this would have been possible without your support. For 357 days I faced my fears with dedication and determination. I did not become an Ironman on July 20th, I became an Ironman by defeating diabetes for 357 consecutive days and nothing can ever take that away from me.