To borrow a quote from the great Mark Twain – “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
In fact as my friends have been reaching out via social media posting on my Facebook wall, sending me tweets and e-mailing me here at Run for Dom, I began to feel a bit like old Mark Twain must have as my endurance athlete friends wondered aloud just what happened to Joe?
Well the honest answer is I have been searching a bit over the last few months.
The past few training cycles leading up to the Houston Marathon and then Big Cottonwood I got ever so close to the starting line – just two weeks before the taper in both cases – only to wind up injured and unable to race. The disappointment in both of those marathon training cycles “gone bad” left me not only disappointed and hurt (mentally and physically), but I started to wonder if I ever was going to get the chance to celebrate another race day at an “A” event.
So as Ironman Texas training started I made a deal with myself.
I was not going to get too high or too low. Ironman requires a similar approach on race day.
I was going to shut things down from a social media perspective, not talk about every swim, bike and run. Not chronicle the journey every step of the way as I know that while the support I have gotten over the years has fueled me to reach some pretty lofty goals, it also put an amount of pressure on me to meet expectations. Or at least the expectations that I thought my friends, followers and even Dom had for me.
If something were to happen to me again along this journey to Ironman, I didn’t want to let everyone down again and talk about another missed opportunity. Perhaps I was hoping that by changing a variable in my training, I would change the outcome and have an injury free training cycle.
Maybe it was superstition or karma, kismet – I don’t know, but I felt like I would just keep this cycle to those closest to me. My wife, daughter, and training partners and the occasional morning when I would check-in with Dom and ask him to push me out the door, onto the saddle or into the pool.
A funny thing happened over the past few months.
On Saturday morning I climbed onto our Quintana Roo CD0.1 with nothing but 100 miles ahead of us. Our first century ride. 5 1/2 hours later, we had our 100 in the books and felt pretty darn good doing so closing with a few miles in the 21-22 mph range.
Sunday I decided to run without my GPS watch, just like the old days I glanced at the oven clock when I walked out the door and glanced at it again when I returned. I focused on effort and not pace, knocking out my long run in 7:30 pace +/-. Much faster than our goal of 8:30/mile for Ironman Texas.
Then tonight I dropped into the pool after a long day at work and swam for an hour straight with no breaks, 20 minutes +/- shorter than what our Ironman swim will take us on race day God willing.
With 7 weeks to go until race day I am exactly where I want to be – it feels like we are not quite at our best, but we are getting stronger and stronger every week.
Instead of the past few marathon cycles where I was “trained” 2 months out and just tried to be “extra ready” for race day – foolish in hindsight – I am trying to peak for one day and one day only. May 17, 2014. I do not care about being ready the week before or the week after. Only for that one moment in time.
That’s what life is. Just individual moments strung together that presents the illusion that they are somehow connected. But living in the moment and for the moment is really what it is all about when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
In 3 weeks I will be heading down to New Orleans for Ironman 70.3 (Half-Ironman) – nothing more than a dress rehearsal for Ironman Texas 4 weeks later.
Everything that day is going to be done in preparation for Ironman. What I eat the night before the race, what I have for breakfast, my race kit, socks, shoes, nutrition, suntan lotion, helmet and glasses. Everything identical. No surprises.
Time in New Orleans is irrelevant – all I want to do is dial-in my nutrition plan, dial in the bike with my race wheels and gearing – make absolutely certain that our equipment and body are functioning as one. I won’t be chasing our Half-Iron PR of 5;07. In fact if I get within :20 minutes of that mark I am going to be fairly angry at myself. The worst thing I can do at Ironman Texas is to “start racing”. I need to stay within myself. Swim easy, bike smooth, run smart.
I remember back to my first marathon where I honestly doubted if I could cover the 26.2 mile distance. 3 hours, 58 minutes and 8 seconds later I was a marathoner. It was my slowest marathon by quite a large margin. Even the second marathon I ran for Dom 13 days after Boston was more than :20 minutes faster. But one thing I remember vividly about Philly in 2006 is that while the race was unfolding I stopped caring about my time around mile 12. All I wanted to do is finish – time was irrelevant.
On May 17th I will run another marathon. Only this time my warm-up will be a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike ride.
I have a few goals for Ironman Texas. I suspect that by the time I get on the run course, I won’t care about any of them. The only thing that will matter is that I didn’t give up and I made it to the finish line. I have played the scenario over and over in my mind as I finally enter that .25 mile long finishing coral lined with fans, supporters and family members who have not only cheered for hours and hours on race day for the Ironman Triathletes who have taken on the 140.6 mile race course, but have supported “Their Athletes” for months leading up to the race. Popping blisters, rubbing sore muscles, cooking meals, taking care of chores and holding down the fort while their loved one put in the time, the effort, the miles to prepare for that 1/4 mile finishing chute.
I am going to look those spectators in the eyes and thank them.
I am going to slap every child’s hand on the way to the finish line.
I am going to revel in the moment.
I am going to listen for Chris Reilly (the voice of Ironman) to call out to the crowd:
“Joe Marruchella, you. are. an. Ironman.”
I am going to collect my hugs and share some tears with Dawn and Landry and I am going to walk gingerly away from these moments.
The sport of running and triathlon has given me more than I ever could have expected or deserved. A sense or purpose, inspiration and motivation. Great friendships. Some very happy post-race feelings of accomplishment. The occasional feeling of utter failure and defeat. I have a lifetime of memories not only of race days, but of full-moon morning runs on dark trails and sunrises that God seemed to place there just for me to see. It provided a vehicle to bring people together when Dom was battling cancer and helped raise money for Sierra and Nico’s educations.
I don’t want to paint a picture that after Ironman is over I am never going to race again. I think that would be foolish – as I’ve learned to never say never. Especially after saying that I would NEVER train for Ironman. But they say that you are never the same after Ironman. That it changes your outlook on our sport and on many things in your life.
But I will say this – I have found the joy again in running easy. Not worrying about every single mile split and if I am getting “faster” or “slower”.
I know that May 17th is not going to be all unicorns and rainbows. It is honestly going to be the most difficult day of my life as an endurance perspective. Most people can’t run 2.4 miles, let alone swim them. They don’t like to drive 100 miles, let alone bike 112 of them. And certainly out of the less than 1% of the population that has run a marathon – very few of them would consider doing so after combining those two “warm-up events”.
It is going to hurt and I am going to want to quit at some point.
But I am not going to. Quitting just isn’t an option.
That is why the finish area is lined with spectators from 9 hours after the cannon fires to start the mass-swim start at 7:00 a.m. up until Midnight when the final finishers struggle to finish under the 17 hour time limit. Watch footage of an ironman finish on youtube and you will start to get it. Witness it first hand and it is something you will never forget.
If all things go according to plan (which is a foolish statement in and of itself when it comes to Ironman) I should reach the finish line sometime between 11 and 12 hours after we enter the water. 90 minute swim, 5 hour 45 minute bike, 4 hour marathon, :20 minutes in T1 and T2 (transition areas) combined. That puts us around 11:35:00.
We’ll see how it all plays out, which is sort of the whole point now isn’t it? But if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been lately or what I’ve been up to – worry no longer. As I said earlier – the rumor of my death has been greatly exaggerated.
I haven’t gone anywhere – and I’m not about to anytime soon.
After the race I’ll share the full training cycle, full of car accidents that took a couple of weeks out of our training cycle and a bike wreck that I survived …. it’s been a little bit of a bumpy ride – but hey.
It’s Ironman. If it were easy. Everyone would do it :)