As you all know, I took a rest day between day 1 and day 2. On the rest day my objective was to get a light workout in, stay off my feet as much as possible and get a massage. I got the massage first thing in the morning. With my legs completely flushed out, they actually felt pretty good. I knew they would though. It is typically the second day after an event that the real soreness gets you. The remainder of the day went by in a blur. My dad and I grabbed lunch together which gave us a good chance to catch up. He has recently had his knee replacements replaced and is making a strong comeback. His determination and strength has always been a huge inspiration and drive for me. Two knee replacements later, he has never even thought about admitting defeat. I fully expect him to be back on the tennis court in 2014 competing on the national senior tennis circuit. Very inspiring. Following lunch, we had a birthday party for my nephew at our house. It was a great distraction to play with the kids and try to stop thinking about myself for a second. After the party, I packed for the next day, ate dinner, and went to bed early.
I woke at 3:50am the next day and gingerly stepped out of bed. I eased into a standing position, waiting for the deep soreness to hit me. No soreness. I took a step, then another. Bent my legs, straightened up. No soreness. I was shocked, but ecstatic! Because the YMCA pool did not open until 7am on Saturday, my first event of day 2 was a 10 mile run. I would then do the swim, followed by the bike, followed by the remaining 16.2 mile run.
I ate my almond butter sandwich, cup of coffee, and Bode Lemon-Lime sports drink and began double checking my checklist. Once again, Annie came out to help me as well. When we were sure that everything was packed and ready for the day, I headed out to the Y to start the 10 mile run. I arrived in the Y parking lot and was amazed to see 15-20 guys from my running group waiting for me. I didn’t tell them how grateful I was for their support, because guys aren’t good at that. I think I said “what are you all waiting on? Let’s go!”. Someone responded “alright (insert explicative)”. Good enough. Hopefully they could feel my sincere appreciation.
We started the run and I took each step anticipating pain to shoot through my legs. Still nothing! Within a half mile, we were cruising at a decent pace and things felt great. Thanks to Joey Beason, we stayed on a strict 4 minute run / 1 minute walk regiment. I could devote an entire blog to the benefits of this type of running. It was a lifesaver. The 10 miles rolled by quickly. The mood was jovial and there were plenty of jokes and stories to go around. Following the run, I had my first scare of the day. Literally on the last 100 yards of the run, I felt sharp pain on the outside of my right knee. It was painful enough to cause me to limp a little. I knew it was IT band irritation and knew it had the potential to make Day 2 a VERY long day. I didn’t limp in front of the guys because I wasn’t admitting anything was wrong in my own mind and I definitely didn’t want anyone else asking me if I was okay. Sometimes injuries only happen when you actually admit that something hurts. We had started the run at 4:50am and I was planning to get back just in time to start the swim by 7am. Surprisingly we made it back 25 minutes ahead of schedule. I had time to change clothes, stretch, eat a little and relax before the swim.
At 7am I was on the pool deck ready for the swim. Brad Hughes had graciously offered to be my lap counter for the day. I can’t imagine a more boring job, so thanks Brad. Someone had brought a load of coffee to the pool deck and the running group gathered to drink coffee and watch me slog out 2.4 miles. You know you have great friends when they are willing to watch you swim for an hour! Rion Smith and Harris Cottingham swam with me to keep me on pace. The first couple laps of the swim didn’t go so well. I had no rhythm and my arms felt like lead. Uh oh! Somewhere around the half mile point, my arms began loosening up and my stroke feeling stronger. By the halfway point, I felt absolutely amazing. It was all I could do to keep myself from turning the last mile into a sprint. I finished the swim in 1:08. 1 minute faster than the previous day.
I had started getting cold the last 15 minutes of the swim and when I got out it only got worse. I immediately dried off and went to the locker-room to eat and dress for the bike. Due to my core temperature being down, my hands were shaking so badly it was hard to eat or get dressed. I finally got dressed and my support crew wouldn’t allow me to leave until I sat in the steam room for several minutes. So Tommy McAfee, Brad Hughes and I sat fully dressed, eating and drinking coffee in the sauna. Probably looked a little strange, but it did the trick. My core temp warmed up just enough to stop the shaking.
I grabbed my bike and headed out of the Y to meet the guys who would be riding with me. To my surprise, I was greeted by a good friend and elite cyclist, Aaron Burleson. He brought a cycling teammate named Eric with him who I really enjoyed meeting. Our group was rounded out by another elite cyclist named Scott Edge and my buddy Jamie Yarbrough. All four guys were great company and by far the strongest riders I had ever ridden with. Unfortunately they were only going to stay with me till the 56 mile point. The way they protected me and pulled me made me feel like the president in a high speed motorcade. With 4 strong riders pulling you, it is amazing how much faster you can go. At one point on a long straight we were averaging 28 mph and my heart rate was only 115 bpm! If it felt like cheating, I certainly didn’t let it bother me. I shamelessly let them pull me the entire 56 miles. When they left me, Brian “the hammer” Hamby joined me. He had big shoes to fill and did a great job. However, going from 4 riders to just 1 was a tough adjustment for me. I began feeling the wind and our speed slowed quite a bit. This was my fault, not Brian’s. For 30 miles Brian toughed out the wind and pulled me along the course, leading the entire time. Thankfully when it was time to head back to the Y, Drew Brannon, joined us for the last 30 miles. Brian finally got to take a break. With Drew’s help, we continued to stay ahead of pace. Ed Matthews dedicated his entire day to supporting our ride and provided excellent traffic control for us on the way in. At every major intersection he was there to block traffic and let us ride straight on through. Thank you Ed. We finished the bike well ahead of schedule and I was feeling pretty good.
Once off the bike, my thoughts returned to my knee. Would it act up or would it be okay? I tried not to worry about it too much. Annie arrived with a delicious grilled turkey and cheese sandwich that I devoured. I don’t know how Annie did it, but the entire weekend, with two kids in tow, she was there for me. I changed clothes and joined Joey, Tommy Sinn, Chris Carter, and Sung Chong to start the run. Tommy was on his bike, taking photos, providing protection, and general mayhem. Everyone’s mood was good. With more than a little concern I started the run. I waited for the pain…nothing. A few more steps…nothing. IT issue…gone. Whew! The pace of the run stayed pretty consistent. Joey called out the 1 minute walk breaks like a drill sergeant. Being the second ironman I had done in 3 days, I expected fatigue and other issues to set in. However, the complete opposite happened. Throughout the day, I actually felt stronger and stronger. At mile 4, Suzanne Knox joined us on her bike and motivated us to keep moving! At the 8 mile turnaround point, we were met by a large group of supporters and several more runners joined us. It was an amazing feeling seeing us all come together for this common cause. A negative split is something that every runner typically aims for. However, in an ironman event, a negative split is very tough to do. We did it. The pace on the way home continued to quicken. My legs began feeling fresher than they had at any point during training. How was this happening? It was such an unbelievable feeling to be at that stage of the second ironman and feel like I could have kept going forever. As we approached the finish line, I was surrounded (then passed) by all of our kids as they raced me to the finish line. I took a moment to absorb the moment. For 10 months I had envisioned this moment and now it was right there in front of me. I high fived Joey, who had just run 2 marathons with me like it was no big deal. An amazing accomplishment that did not receive the recognition it deserved. I high fived Sung Chong who had just completed his first marathon ever. I high fived Chris Carter who had also just finished the marathon with me. As the rays of the setting sun were just hitting the tree line around the Y, I crossed the finish line. 13 hours and 30 minutes. A full 1:30 faster than the first ironman!
My first hug was for Annie. I cannot fully express my gratitude and utter amazement for her support. She stayed 100% behind me this entire time and never once wavered in her dedication to helping me complete this mission. My next hugs were for family and then for Matt Reeves. The director of the Frazee Center and the man who, along with his amazing wife Jenny, works so hard to change the lives of Greenville’s youth.
Our group milled around at the finish line for a long time. Content just to be together sharing this moment. I tried to mentally grasp what I had just done, but it was useless. My mind wouldn’t let me reflect. Not yet. I hope in the coming weeks that I can find some deeper meaning in all this, but for now I am comfortable knowing that the journey is complete. I have always thought the extreme endurance tests will change you forever. Each one leaves its mark on your soul. This one was no different. Unfortunately the understanding does not come immediately. Deciphering the message takes time.
Thank you to all who helped me through this. This is not my success, it is our success. Most importantly it is the children who really won. I am so overwhelmed by the support I received that it will be impossible to thank everyone to the extent they deserve. All I can say is thank you. Over and over again.