Just to give you fair warning, contained herein is a mix of parody, somewhat unrestrained personal insight, and opinion (you get to see my unfiltered brain…yeah, this has been a lifelong problem for me. Oh well). Of course, I’ll also try to impart some high-level triathlon knowledge…I hope. No promises, but if you look close enough you will see an Ironman Silverman race report in here somewhere.
I suppose that I’m hoping to have this report reflect my approach to triathlons. I will admit that I do often prefer to piece together my triathlon fitness within an enigmatic state-of-mind…that is, not having everything packaged, sized-up, and rationalized by hard science and numbers. In keeping my imagination at the fore of my activities, and believing that just about anything is possible, has been very important to my approach in all areas of my life. I’ve never been attracted to the idea of quantifying and knowing my limitations, or even my ceiling, or potential, for that matter. Too much scientific rigidity, too much quantifying data can squash the idea that anything is possible. I believe that if you can imagine it, see it in your head, and then believe…you can go further, faster, and be stronger. Honestly, there was a time when I was competing as a pro that I thought that I wasn’t that far from being able to jump-to-the-moon.
O.K., so that’s my long-winded way of saying, “don’t expect to read about power numbers and other neat little mathematical rationalities.” That’s not judgment…just my preference. Really, when you stop and think about, life probably comes down to that simple little fact of the human condition…we prefer this over that...we prefer. Although I rely on science a great deal for athletic performance, for me, it is superseded by the “art” of training and racing. Just trying to do what I’ve learned works best for me.
(Oh boy, you probably ought to go get yourself a beer or two. But, not you, kids).
Also, because of the timing of this report…that is…how it plays into the proximity of the offseason, the Ironman Lake Tahoe cancelation (3 weeks ago), and the main subject of this report…the Ironman Silverman (Las Vegas), I have taken liberties to do this in a bit more reflective and global way (yikes!). No doubt, this has much to do with the fact that during the last eleven months, I set aside many of the core aspects of my life (except my core family…I think) for the last eleven months to focus on the dream of racing in the Hawaii Ironman World Championships next year. This dream could only be made possible by qualifying, or earning a Hawaii Ironman slot, at Ironman Lake Tahoe.
But, Lake Tahoe was canceled 5 minutes before start time.
If the commitment of one’s self to finishing, or in my case performing at a very high-level at an Ironman race, is an experience that awakens ones’ spirit, or “Ironman Spirit,” than having had such a race canceled as described, will awaken some serious introspection.
The Ironman Lake Tahoe race cancelation really does underlie this report. It’d be hard to talk about Silverman without addressing the impact of the “Tahoe Crusher,” two weeks prior. It’s so interesting, in retrospect, that Silverman was always there, very much the Tahoe Ironman satrap waiting in the wings, and maybe where I should have been all along…but I get ahead of myself.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard much talk and read a lot about something called the “Ironman Spirit.” Perhaps the most satisfying and rewarding aspect of doing and completing a full Ironman race, is the fact that you experience and acquire the Ironman Spirit. It seems to look something like this: When your body is taken to its limit…when its energy is used up…when it’s been conquered…your spirit is not. This is a kind of unworldly strength and capacity some people have within them, and a very real and powerful phenomenon. As a result of the Ironman Tahoe race cancelation, did I lose out on the reward that is in living the Ironman Spirit?
I would answer “no” to that question, and here’s why.
I believe that you can only truly access the Ironman by first being on an “Ironman path.” Put simply, being on this path means committing yourself fully and to the best of your ability to prepare yourself for such a daunting task that will be required of you on Ironman race day. It means committing yourself on a scale commensurate of the Ironman race goal requirements…and in doing so, you have then earned the capacity to have an Ironman spirit. I suppose I’m seeing the race day itself as a kind of celebration of that spirit. Indeed, an Ironman race is one helluva party! Crazy, I know.
And so it seems to me that to pass the test of becoming an Ironman, you must become an Ironman BEFORE race day. So, although I didn’t get to go out and race Ironman Tahoe, the integrity of my commitment to being Ironman Tahoe race goal prepared, certainly allowed me to know and have the Ironman Spirit. More so, being on the Ironman Path awakened my spirit in general in many ways. So, in spite of the race cancelation, it was a deeply satisfying and worthwhile endeavor and experience. No regrets or lasting disappointment whatsoever (but, yes, it did hurt quite a bit for about 10 days. Cried like a little baby…in private). J
Now, all that being said, my large-scale preparation for Tahoe, and the simple fact that I am not physically suited for marathon distance running, surely left me with a fairly significant, but also quite tricky and dumbfounding knee problem. My three-quarter inch leg-length discrepancy has always made high-volume running a challenge with respect to getting injured. It puts me at a significant mechanical disadvantage. The damnedest thing is, I’m pretty sure that the very needed hard 20 mile (all pavement) cathartic run I did right after the race cancelation, which was so essential to get my mind at peace, put my knee over-the-edge. There was some awful pain in my left knee going-on after that run. Certainly, it must have been something that was waiting right-around-the-corner. But somehow, someway, I thought I’d find a way to get around this injury during the two-week window before Silverman. C’mon, Tri-gods, cut me some slack, I’m a good man…no, really, I am! Please, baby, baby, please! I NEEEEED this race! (Note: I’d like to discuss this injury situation again later in more detail).
Las Vegas bound. Drove south on I-5 in the dullest looking white-colored family van known-to-man; packed sky-high with ALL things triathlon…and maybe a spare of all things triathlon. There’s nothing worse than showing up to a race without something necessary to race at your best. Moreover, to win my age-group at this level of competition, I need to have everything be perfectly in place. Heck, rolling out to a race and wondering if you took care of the million details involved in Tri-racing might be the hardest part of the deal. Put your brain to rest, Sean…just put it to rest!
I also got my 18 year old too-cool-for-school son as my co-pilot. Lord-have-mercy, I hope I don’t end-up killin him on this trip. No, actually, this is a real blessing. With Forough (I would be nowhere without this incredible women’s support over the years) doing her best to sweep Chico off-its-feet, and pulling it off in a big-way, like I knew she would, running for city council, and all lined-out with forums, events, fundraisers, and interviews, Andris would need to fill an invaluable role, while getting a heavy dose of “seek-and-destroy man-time” with his ol’ man. It occurs to me as we drive through the ugliness of Bakersfield, how fortunate it is to have this opportunity to know my son better via this race-trip. Somehow I think he feels the same way on some level, which gives me the warm-and-fuzzies. O.K. kid, now let’s go watch Dad thoroughly waste himself in the desert, but first, it’s your turn to drive J
After having had a very pleasant evening last night with Andris hanging-out in our very nice Comfort Inn room, we head over to check-in at the race headquarters/expo/Transition 2/Race Finish, which is at the fancy Henderson Pavilion. Henderson is a sparkling, highly affluent city of nearly 300,000 people, which has consistently been ranked as one of top-5 safest cities in the U.S. This city seems to match up well with the core of the triathlete demographic…sparkling and highly affluent people. Interestingly, its proximity to Las Vegas does make for quite a striking juxtaposition…particularly with all these wholesome, radiant-skinned, perfect-people, saturating the streets while riding around on $10,000 two-wheeled wonders of mechanical engineering. It kinda makes you scratch-your-head as you can’t help but feel like you’re looking at a Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang world standing hand-in-hand with Sin City. Weird stuff.
At check-in, I sign my life away to Ironman Corp.; get my little-blue plastic wrist-band (how appropriate that this always reminds me of a hospital check-in) which identifies me as an official Ironman participant as I traverse through this whole process; get my race chip (for timing); my blue-bag for bike-gear, to be left in T1 overnight (has bike shoes & helmet. Note: nutrition and legal drugs are already on-board bike); my red-bag for run-gear, to be left in T2 overnight (has running shoes, socks, visor, glasses, & legal drugs); my green morning-bag which I will use to carry anything I will need during the hour pre-ceding the race start (wetsuit, goggles, cap, Glide, nutrition, & legal drugs), as well as be used to deposit warm-up clothes, and also contain needed after-race stuff, such as day-clothes, phone, keys, and money (the race transports the morning-bags to the finish area…a very nice aspect); and finally, I get all the real nice swag (hat, backpack, shirt, & various performance food/supplements). O.K., get me outta this place…it’s making me nervous J
It’s the night before the race and I decide to take one last peek at the online Bib-List. Welp, this will be no “cherry-pick.” Gosh darned-it! I notice that the best 50-54 age-group athlete in the world at the 70.3 distance, Dan Stephens, is a very late entrant. Oh Dan, you’re looking like the devil to me right now…you dream-crusher, you. I spent the next few hours before bed, working out in my head how I could beat this alien-freak…working it out with extraordinary imagination…going through scenarios that would have me finishing in first place. Yes, I must confess that was what I had in mind, as I was needing something big and juicy to replace the epic Ironman Tahoe race. Geez, Dan Stephens…really?! I also see that Alex Begg, a former pro with whom I used compete against back-in-the-day, and who just took 5th at Ironman Worlds in Austria, was also there, as well as many other studs. Tough task ahead.
The Course & The Place
Oh, did I mention that there’s a tough task head? The Ironman Silverman has a nasty beast of a race course, in a nasty beast of a place. I’m tellin ya, I could just see the Ironman Corp. race designers wringing their hands in evil glee when they were in the process of putting this one together. Heck, I’d bet you a million bucks, one of them boneheads probably hates those brightly colored compression socks that so many triathletes just love to wear...so much so, that he was hoping the Silverman course would melt those things right off their legs and down a mile deep into the earth’s crust. But hey, I’m good with the bike course…I love climbing (4,300ft elevation gain; heat; windy; point-to-point mostly uphill; minimizes draft cheats), but that run on top-of-it is just preposterous! A straight up, straight down, again and again (3 laps) affair on scorching hot pavement. Come race day, gonna see lots of dead meat out on those streets…sure-as-eggs-is-eggs. Brutal hills; brutal heat; brutal wind; means a slow course. The swim will take place in a warm and pleasant Lake Mead…with wetsuits allowed, no less.
This swim was the most gentle and sweet swim to date. Because of the 2.4 mile Ironman Tahoe swim distance I had in front of me all summer, I was scared into actually putting some almost respectable time in the pool. I’ll-be-darned if my hair even got a bit of that golden high-lighted color I used to get when I used to spend tons of time in chlorinated water as a kid. Actually, now that I think about it, those were some killer highlights I had in that beautiful head of hair. Gosh, if only I knew then how to exploit this fact with the girls…ohhhh, if I could only go back in time.
I went out semi-hard the first 100 yards, then looked around for the fastest guy in my wave and latched-onto his feet. O.K. Mr. Swimmer-Dude, you are now the golden-ticket to all my dreams. Take me home baby-boy. I had one life-and-death task at this point in the game…stay on this man’s feet like white-on-rice. It worked out perfectly; swam a very comfortable 28:30. Life is good.
Well, don’t know what condition my knee will be in when I get to that nasty run course, so get out of the way people…Molina’s in a utter state of reckless abandon…a lunatic on two-wheels…oh, King-Kong wishes he could squash people like this…crunch, crunch! (O.K., let me just go get a beer real quick, so I could chill a bit). Really though, no better rush than to literally pass what very much seemed like a thousand folks. What a joyous rush. Haven’t felt that feeling in a long time. It seemed so strange to me that while I was in the middle of this ride, I was metacognating thoughts of gratefulness…”wow Sean, look at you…you’re an old guy, and you still get to feel this power. This is gift, man! Thank you, thank you, thank you! ” Can you be giddy while you’re “conquering the world?” J Lots of very big-gear, out-of-saddle, Bernard Hinault style riding, crushing over semi-big hills.
I wasn’t quite as giddy at about mile 50 into the bike as I got a fairly nasty pain in my left knee and had to start compensating with the right side of my lower body. Not good. As many of you know, having to compensate for pain and weakness almost always leads to bad things. It tends to be like dominos falling, as over-exerted compensating muscles create new painful areas and cramping. So, do you recall our little chat earlier about the Ironman Spirit? Well, just like a dang shameless beggar, I was calling out “Hey!...Ironman Sean Spirit! I need you NOW! Please, baby, baby, PLEEEEEASE!” Geez, thanks a lot, Tri-gods…no easy-outs for Molina today, huh? (yeah, I was just thanking those same tri-gods earlier. Lame)
Alright then, I was being tested and there was no denying the horrific task in front of me. I started perversely imagining would I had to look forward to during the run…the brutal pain I had felt during that aforementioned track session…the hideous cramps…the ibuprofen (desperate back-up plan) induced cardiac arrest, all mixed into a beautiful cocktail of netherworld suffering. And sheeit, this is what I worked my b@lls off for, “Sean, for god’s sake, go gets some psychotherapy when you get home…I mean, this is not normal human behavior, man!.”
To add insult to injury, that Dan Stephens beast, who had caught me at mile 25, and with whom I was indulging in a bit of a blood-bath (we actually fought like stubborn dogs to be the first one in our age-group to cross the 40 mile tracker strip…nuts), dropped me here (mile 50) as I had to start pedaling with only my right leg. I got him on that 40 mile tracker strip though, hehe. Within those last 15 miles is the toughest climb on the whole course, so he was able to put about 2 minutes on me before going into the run.
I ended up with the 8th fastest amateur bike split (three of those were only a few seconds faster), and faster than 6 pros. I was 20th OVERALL after the bike!!! THAT is quite exciting for me, and a beautiful outcome of having been on the Ironman Tahoe path, and the training it required. I had gotten in lots of climbing, and I’m sure a pretty good red blood-cell count from all the time spent at 7,000ft. This Silverman bike-leg was the highest level of athletic performance I achieved since I entered back into this arena some 5 years ago…after a more than 15 year absence from competitive endurance sport. I’ll hang-my-hat on that effort this off-season.
I can’t be sure if this is really what happened out there, because I was surely in a fogged-up haze of bodily denial, but I swear, I must of seen at least 30 spectators (there were thousands) with a big fat cortisone-filled needle in their hand. Ohhhhh, you bet I did end up asking a couple of them if they’d share some of the stuff and shoot-me-up, but they just gave me a very queer look and handed me a little white-cup with water instead. WTH man, it’s not like they needed the stuff! What?...y’all gonna give it to your kid when they fall off the swings?...for-crying-out-loud! Were they suffering pitifully and dying a hard death like I was? People, c’mon…have a heart!
Now, it’s getting bloody hot. Do I really wanna take that 600mgs of Ibuprofen I have in a little plastic snack bag tucked in between my tri-suit and right quad. I knew coming into the race it might come to this. I also knew that Ibuprofen would be a nasty stress on my kidneys in this Mojave heat. So what will it be, Sean? Blow-torch and rippin chain-saw pain, or going into cardiac arrest and having my life be over on this boiling pavement in Sin-City?
OK, yep, got the Ibuprofen in me, so note-to-self…don’t let the pure misery of your knee pain, and the failing, cramping other leg, which btw, got you through the last 15 miles of the bike and is now carrying you through 13.1 miles of this savage hell, mask an on-coming cardiac arrest. Who knows, if I can catch any hint of my internal organs turning to mush soon enough, maybe I can live to see-another-day. Dang, the multitasking involved at this point is getting to be a bit much. Sheesh!
Well, for the most part I kept running…sloooooooooowly (relative), but I was breaking down in a bad way. I felt so humbled in a way that I don’t know that I have ever experienced. Honestly, the Ironman Spirit was now with me as much as it could be. I’m about halfway through the run and every five seconds I felt convinced that I could no longer take the intense blowtorch-like burning pain in my knee and the god-awful cramps that were devouring my lower-body.
At some point, during the next few miles, after summoning every ounce of willpower I had, and starting to somehow laugh at my pathetic state, I started to see the “Beauty in the Breakdown.” Yeah, I started singing to myself, “So let go, let go. Jump in. Oh well, what you waiting for? It’s all right ‘cause there’s beauty in the breakdown. So let go, l-let go…” I’m not kidding…anything to get me through this torture. Sheesh, I went from, “This a freakin nightmare,” to “Hey!...I can do this!” Sooooowly.
I managed to eek out a 4th place age-group finish, and was 66th overall. I was 1 minute behind third place which is a bit frustrating. There just seems to be a huge difference between 3rd and 4th place. Guess I shoulda just took that piss into my shorts while I was running instead of going into the port-a-potty. Sean, “you’re soooo vain, I bet you think this song is about you…” (Carly Simon). That run was the most teeth-grinding, someone-please-kick-me-hard-in-the-balls, looking-down-both-barrels of hell, misery I have EVER experienced in my life. There is something seriously wrong with you, Sean…PLEASE go get some therapy…O.K., man…please?
Some of you may be question my decision to race Ironman Silverman with such a nasty injury to my knee. Some may be thinking that I predisposed myself to this injury because of the way I chose to train and prepare for Ironman Tahoe. Certainly, I did do some very “big” training…there was some 28+ hour weeks at the top-end of some cycles, and certainly there were injuries in-the-waiting.
It would seem to me that some of the most invaluable and satisfying outcomes that results from passing such an overwhelmingly difficult physical and psychological test such as an Ironman race is to learn something about yourself…to truly see what you are capable of accomplishing, and to discover some inner strength you did not know you had. In this light, it seems so antithetical to my personal goal for the race, to approach my preparation in a conservative way. For me, being conservative in this particular context, means to play-it-safe, to be risk-free, to not feel any highs or lows. This has not been my way of approaching almost any of the areas of my life. And yet here I am. Do I like where I am?; like what I have accomplished?; would I trade the whole of my life, which is a product of choices I’ve made over the years, and which was elicited by who I am at the core, for another life? No way.
As of right now, it appears that I have acquired a very nasty case of patellar tendinitis. The whole tendon, top, middle, and lower can sometimes explode into a brutal, white-hot, unbearable burn when I put the metal-to-the-pedal. Sometimes it explodes, and other times not so much. It looks like I’ll need to take about 6 to 8 weeks completely off from running, and about 4 to 6 weeks off from cycling (perhaps I could do some light spinning in about 3 weeks).
Certainly I chose to push my limits during my training build-up for the Tahoe Ironman. I felt that this would be necessary in order to qualify for Hawaii, and was very cognizant of the risk of injury, and was fully prepared for that possibility. Life is short. I’m taking risks. J
So, holistically I will continue to be true to the Sean Molina Way. It’s mine…I own it, and quite frankly, I believe that I have overachieved in this arena (competitive triathlon) because of it. Taking risks has certainly led to heartbreak and failings…but it has also brought incredible highs and beauty. It’s alright to feel something. It’s more that alright…it’s what makes us human beings. My goal in life is not to become comfortably numb…anesthetized (although I wouldn’t have minded numbing the hell out of that knee). I recently heard a newly released song that had as one of its lyrics, “I just wanna die alive.” Yep.
Pot Shots, & Musings
Here’s the main thing about my passion for triathlon, and for any of the real sports (we all know which ones those are): They are incredibly honest. Smoke & Mirrors don’t work; no amount of selfies; no amount of talk or self-hype; no amount bullshit will help you in this particular arena And yes, I am very much implying that most other aspects of our lives in this western civilization context…are saturated with bullshit and inauthenticity. In fact, I believe this is why we are so attracted to competitive sports…especially those that take you deep into your DNA; take you to your inner-Gladiator…dang, talk about truth! You race, you get a result, you get a time, you get exactly what you deserve. Beautiful. Honesty is everything.
Are there going to be those who choose to take banned substances, draft, or whatever else to gain an unfair advantage? Always. But, as they say, the truth is never far behind. Those people will always get what they deserve in the end. Fact of life. Great athletes who work hard, will be great athletes…period. I’ve seen it. Have you? There’s nothing more sickening to me that anyone who works incredibly hard, has phenomenal talent, and goes out and does something great, is often automatically questioned as a cheat. Seems like rape. The downside of making assumptions in this way is just too great in terms of what you are taking from any honest athletes. It also makes you look like an impotent cynic, mired in the misery of your own mediocrity. Don’t do it…please.
And on that note…like Taylor Swift has been singing, “Hey! Just think, while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world…You could have been getting down to this sick, sick beat.” I like that. J
The Ironman Heart
No, I won’t be able to savor that incredible moment that is crossing the Ironman finish-line…but I will savor and go through my life with a brighter spirit, because I had an opportunity to push myself to my limits, experiencing a myriad of emotional and physical challenges...a sensory jumble of highs and lows, pain and triumph…the most difficult, intense, rewarding, and beautiful time (non-family) of my life. I saw so much heart and felt so honored to be with all those athletes on that Ironman Tahoe race morning.
And so, if everything happens for a reason, which I truly believe is the case, what was I to take away from that Tahoe Ironman race cancelation? It’s all about the “path”…or perhaps, the “Ironman Path.” Good enough J
Amazingly, I signed up for the 2015 Ironman Lake Tahoe. The goal for that race will be drastically different that the goal that I had for this year. Instead of being totally focused on top-3 finish, I will be happy to simply finish (I know, there’s probably an awful lot of you rolling your eyes right now). I’m serious...approaching it this way looks incredibly fun to me, and for an only $100 entry fee, I could not pass it up. I’ll stay at a nice healthy sprint/Olympic race distance fitness level through June, and then do a 10 week Ironman specific training block leading up to the race that will have more focus on long rides, and less on long runs. I basically paid a $100 to reserve an opportunity to take part…participate, if-you-will…in this absolutely incredible event that exists right here in our backyard (yeah, people are still rolling their eyes). We’ll see.
Also, I’m going to re-focus things quite a bit this winter while I give my body a much needed chance to off-load stress (physical) and fatigue. I’m a workout junkie to-say-the-least, so the fact that my knee gives me no choice in the matter, but to take time off, is probably a blessing at this time of the year. I will tell you with all sincerity, this break and re-focus is already feeling really, really good. There be a lot more days of substitute teaching, and there will be a re-entry into school...then graduate school, geared to a career change. I’ve never been afraid to re-fresh things by letting go of those things that are safe and secure, and keep life moving forward with an upward trajectory. Its worked out well so far, so again, I will continue to trust myself.
I closing, I’ve heard it said that it’s a beautiful quality to have a willingness to be quiet, until it’s time to speak. No waddling, no half-way, no half-heartedness. So, for now, I’m gonna be quiet until it’s time to speak again…with a fully awakened spirit :-)