IMTX 2014: The virtues of ice and petroleum jelly

by Rick Bosworth

It’s been said the lies we tell ourselves are the most damaging. I don’t need any help: if I can run 9, I can run 26. I can complete an Ironman without ever having run any further than 13 miles during training.

On May 18, 2013, a cloudless day of record heat (109F heat index) at Ironman Texas, payment for that lie came due leaving me in a demoralized heap in the EMS tent at mile 127. I was spent physically, devastated emotionally, dehydrated, and sunburned. For me, on that day, 140.6 was not in the cards. There were no tears, only the stark realization that if I wanted different results, I needed to change my approach. Having faltered during the marathon, I resolved to join a marathon training group immediately upon my return to Austin and that I would return to IMTX next year. A friend recommended Rogue and so I joined the Fall Marathon 2013 group, the A-Team. And I would respect the run.

1476321_10151738128532301_1779862775_nRogue gave me the regular training schedule and accountability I needed to improve my run conditioning. My teammates went on to set PRs at various events (Portland, Philly, BCS), and I chose San Antonio for its proximity. It was an unseasonably hot, humid, and sunny November day. Despite spectacular steps forward in my training, I was relegated to walking in from mile 19 under conditions reminiscent of IMTX 2013. Sun-worn, confused and a little embarrassed about my time, my wife Jen and coach Allison each reminded me that completing that marathon (my first) under those conditions was an achievement. That made sense. I was progressing, but I was not done. Ironman Texas 2014 lay ahead, this was but a single step along my path, and I had more work to do.

Spring Marathon 2014 brought back some of the A Team and added some new faces and friends. At this point, my base conditioning was there, I was focusing on efficiency and managing my multisport training regimen. Life conspired at times to get in the way – there were a few international trips, some kids’ illnesses, and the like – but whatever. Push through. Find an excuse to win.

May 17, 2014. The Woodlands, Texas, just north of Houston. At my asking, my sister Becky and adult niece Nicole, both of whom live nearby, met me at 5:30am at T1, walked with me to the swim start, and kept me company until it was time to get into the water. Their company kept me in a positive frame, but Ironman is a daunting challenge. Did I train enough? Do I have what it takes? It’s all baked-in now, and now I will test myself. After 15 minutes of a warm-up swim in refreshingly pleasant water temps, the cannon sounded and the washtub scrum began. 2.4 miles of “rubbing is racing” later, I emerged from the water strong, confident, and according to the Timex GPS, right on schedule. A quick bite and change of clothes brought me to my bike, where Becky and Nicole were there again to cheer me on. Though I was grateful for the 60 degree air temps, I knew the merciless sun would do what it must. The bike was to be a challenge. No challenge, no story.

0705_037066The 112 mile IMTX bike course is, more or less, a 60 mile out and back, with some additional mileage tucked in here and there among horse pastures and farmland. On the out, there were uncharacteristic northerly headwinds, so in keeping with my plan – hey, I had a race plan this year! – I would go easy on the out and save my legs for the back. Visions of a tailwind-assisted 25mph return leg danced in my gray matter. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men. True to plan, I stopped to enjoy a 20 minute picnic lunch at the 60 mile aid station and to refill my energy stores. Good thing, because the winds had SHIFTED from the south, a fact I stoically observed as I as wolfed my peanut butter sandwich and Pop Tarts. Perfect: 112 miles of headwinds the whole way. Trust your training. Stay in the bubble. Reel it in one aid station at a time.

Unlike last year, I carried my own sunscreen and was just as diligent with it as I was in my nutrition – hey, I had a nutrition plan this year! The sun and wind were relentless, and although I was very familiar with the bike course from my CompuTrainer, my quads were suffering a bit from working against the wind. Getting to bike mile 90 was a little slower going than I had planned. Ironman is lonely work and I worked to crowd out any negative thoughts. Stay calm. Push through. Trust your training. You got this. #JFF.

About an hour later than I had planned, I pulled into T2 to find Becky sitting under a very small shade tree near where I was to pick up my run bag. Unreal. In the sun for how long? She bolted to her feet and started cheering. I told her she was crazy. I gave her a smile and a wave, changed into my run kit, and began my marathon in a very positive frame of mind.

0705_062660My legs were very familiar with the feeling of running after a hard bike effort. It’s a little like running in mud at first, but I was not bothered. What was disturbing though was my heart rate. My heart was pounding out of my chest! I remembered a tip that a random pro told me Thursday: stuff ice in your compression shorts to lower your body temp. It helped but the effect was temporary, so I started a run/walk to manage my pulse, grabbing ice at every aid station at each mile. I felt bad for the volunteers having to witness such crude behavior, but I couldn’t imagine I was the first to besmirch ice’s honor in such a manner. Eventually, everything started functioning normally, and so I started running normally. The next 15 miles or so felt great! I saw my wife, kids, and other family members on the 3 loop run course several times. Random strangers were high-fiving me, cheering me on, telling me how strong my form looked and how right my pace was. Let me tell you: such compliments do not suck and are most welcome. Thanks, Randoms!

As I approached mile 20, my food intake port was no longer functional and threatened to turn into reverse. Marathoners talk about hitting a wall. I had already barged through that around mile 90 on the bike, and again at mile 8 on the run. I knew the wall well from my long runs, and this was not it. This was calories leaving my body with every step with no calories to replenish them. There was a snowball’s chance in hell that I would not finish this race, and I was not going risk bonking so close to my goal for which I had worked so hard. I swallowed my pride and started the walk again. Math says that it takes longer to walk 6 miles than to run it. #science. So, I enjoyed the glorious sunset, the cool breeze, the company of random fellow walkers, and kept putting one foot in front of the other, reeling in my objective as I came back to The Woodlands Waterway for the last couple of miles.

The crowds had thinned at the Waterway. Gone were the flamboyant, scantily-clad people with bumping house music. Claps and cheers, when they were there, seemed even more personal. As I approached the last half mile, certain that the finish was secure, I began to run again. Soon after, my 7 year old son and I locked gazes simultaneously and we both lit up. Jen was there, my daughter, yet another niece, and a sister-in-law. My heart felt so full that I thought it would explode. I stopped to hug Jen and the kids and held back the tears; I did not want any of my awesome leaking out. I could hear the music and crowd at the finish and ran ahead to the finish chute. Here, there were hundreds of crazies lining each side with countless outreached hands beckoning high fives and good vibes. My adrenaline surged.

0705_051811As I made the final 180 degree turn for the last 150 yards or so to the finish arch, I saw blinding lights, hundreds more outreached hands, and heard so much cheering. I could hardly contain myself as I heard the Voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly. “He DNF’d last year, he couldn’t make it in. Well, you made it in this year! Rick Bosworth, from Austin, TX, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” OK, a) how did he know I DNF’d last year? And b) holy schnikies! I am an IRONMAN!! I roared something guttural. My joy was not to be contained.

Truth is, I could not have done this alone. Nor would I have wanted to.

First and foremost, thanks to Jen and the kids, for remembering my name when I returned from long training days.

Thanks to my sister Becky and niece Nicole for making an unreasonably early Saturday morning to keep me company, for cheering all day, and for the very thoughtful fried chicken that I couldn’t eat post-race.

And to the rest of my onsite cheering section: Tanya, Grace, and Mary, thanks for coming out!

To my countless teammates at Rogue, I am so grateful to call you friends. #JFR.

To my friends and family for their kind words of encouragement.

To ice and petroleum jelly.

And last but not least, to Allison and Lenora for being the best damn running coaches I could have hoped for. Fall Marathon awaits, as does Ironman Texas 2015. Who wants to join me?

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