Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab athlete, Richard Medalen shares his experience prepping for Ironman Tahoe 2014, and dealing with the event’s surreal cancellation and resulting disappointment. True to Ironman athlete resiliency and persistence, Richard turned this disappointment in to opportunity.
2014 IronMan Experience
In Sept 2013, I was in Tahoe and saw IronMan athletes walking their bikes up the Brockway climb. I have had a lot of experience cycling and knew that in about any situation, I would be able to pedal my bicycle up Brockway. However, I had never done a triathlon, never swam more than 400 yards or run more than a 5k, so I didn’t realize how much work it would be to complete an Ironman. But I was interested and ready for a new challenge so on somewhat of a whim I signed up for the 2014 Lake Tahoe Ironman the next day.
Now the work really began. First I had to educate myself on triathlons, transitions, gear and training plans and schedules. I had one year to figure it all out.
I got some goggles and swim gear and found a local pool to swim at. I also signed up for a Triathlon Class at the local Community College. I quickly realized that pushing harder when I was swimming would only make me tired and technique (that I didn’t have) was key. I worked on my swimming and drills and had a local swim coach give me some pointers. It was a slow process, but I did see improvement and by September was feeling confident on my ability to finish the swim portion of the race.
Now running turned out to be my biggest challenge. I have very good aerobic fitness, however, my 48 year old joints, knees, hips and back were not used to the stress of running. I started with about 3 miles and worked my way up to about 7 miles in about 3 months. However, I started feeling pain in my legs, hips, back. Nothing too concerning but it was clear that my body just was not trained for running. I was committed to the IronMan and I wanted to do everything that I could to be ready for it. So I kept running and training for another 3 months and worked through various aches, pains and injury. I was sure feeling old.
NEED A COACH!
With about 6 months left to the Ironman, I decided I really needed a coach especially to help me with my running and training of all three disciplines together. How hard should I train? How much should I be running, biking and swimming? How do I combine my workouts? So I searched around and hired Julie Young as my coach. We were aligned philosophically on many training areas. I was particularly in tune with her philosophy of keeping things simple and to train smart and efficiently with a quality focus rather than a quantity. Julie was extremely knowledgeable with firsthand experience and helped me become a better runner or the Ironman. Right away she started working on my structural strength with uphill intervals. She had me doing a bunch of non-running strength work with bands. Within about a month, my hip issues were gone and I felt better about running. These exercises made a huge difference. I spent a lot of time trying to get stronger on the run. I was surprised at how difficult it was to build up to the Marathon running distance. With three months to go, I did a 11 mile training run and hurt my back. This was such a struggle. After my back was recovered, we went with a run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute strategy. I was able to do this for 18 miles but it still was not easy. I felt a little defeated and resigned that this Ironman would have some walking in the marathon for me.
I really did everything that I could to be prepared for the Ironman and I was ready. For many weeks throughout the summer, I stayed at a home in Tahoe that was at 7k feet of elevation to acclimate. I swam in Lake Tahoe, rode the bike course and also ran every step of the run trail. I stayed in Squaw Valley the week prior to the IronMan and I was ready for the event. I attended the Opening Ceremony on Friday Night where they congratulated us for making it to the starting line and thanked all of the families of the athletes for supporting them. My wife was a huge part of my training and helping me prepare for the event. This was the first moment that I really processed how much effort really went into getting ready. Also how much support I had in getting ready and prepared for this day.
SMOKE and RACE DAY:
The smoke was hanging around all week but we had a few good days as well as bad days leading up the the IM. The paper on Friday declared that the smoke would not be an issue on the weekend so the IronMan was on. Friday was the clearest day we had seen in Squaw all week and Saturday morning was beautiful. It built a lot of excitement. I checked in my Bike, T1, T2 bags on Saturday. Organizing and planning all my Transition and Special Needs bags was quite a job in itself. I didn’t sleep very much the night before because of the excitement.
Sunday, I got up early and headed to the start line. There was a lot of smoke in Squaw and Truckee but by the time we got to the beach, it was clear. I turned in my special needs bags, pumped my bike tires and got ready for the swim. About 40Min before the start people were in the water. I had my wetsuit on and I was calmly getting ready to jump into the Lake to warm up for the swim. I was perplexed because the pros were supposed to start in 5 minutes and I hadn’t heard any announcements or instructions for warming up or how long before the start. This was my first IronMan so I wasn’t sure how they started the race. I was just a few yards from the water swinging my arms to warm up when the announcement came. The message was that because the air quality was rated unhealthy on the bike and run course, the event has been canceled. The reaction of the crowd was very mixed. Some were sobbing and some were just moving on. It was a very somber beach filled with athletes. I did not process anything on the beach and instead started thinking about how I was going to get my bike, the bags and everything else back as well as check out of the hotel because my wife and I really did not want to stay in the smoky Squaw Valley site of the canceled IronMan any longer. I was just going through the motions of taking care of all of the logistics and wasn’t processing what had happened. However, when I picked up my T2 Bags from Squaw they were handed out the IronMan Finisher Shirt,Medal, and Hat to everyone. I just took it and for about 5 steps put the hat on my head just so I didn’t have to carry it. I stopped and took it off and it hit me how meaningful these little artifacts would have been had I completed the IronMan but now I didn’t even feel right about wearing a hat for 50 yards. I thought about the finish line many times in training. I would keep my pace up by thinking about the end of the race and how great it would feel having earned the IronMan Finisher Medal. They handed us everything as if we finished but the items did not bring pride and a smile but instead brought a dose of disappointment.
AFTER THE CANCELLATION:
Still trying to process everything that had happened (or didn’t happen) and figure out the next steps. The Ironman organization sent us an email stating that we could get into the Lake Tahoe IM next year for $100 or register for a few other events possibly this year. I thought about that for a day but focused on how much I really do love Tahoe. I was married there, I have ridden around the lake many times, done the Death Ride 5 times. I spent a lot of my free time there in the summer and fall time. This is the place where I want to complete my first Ironman. So I made the decision to take the 2015 Entry for the Lake Tahoe IM and finish what I started, where I started it.
Now I have time to work on my run and hope to complete the marathon without walking. I have time to get stronger and faster than I am now. My swimming can also be improved. I was just handed more time to do the IM. I was ready to go on the beach this year and I really do believe I would have finished but with the extra time, I hope to achieve a performance level that I will be proud of. Two things come to my mind often.
- At the opening ceremony when they spoke about how difficult it is to get to the start line. That is absolutely true.
- Results are earned in training and only picked up on Race Day.
With Julie’s help again next year, I plan to be on the beach ready to crush the time I would have had this year. Most importantly though is that I am looking forward to it. I am very grateful to my wife, coach, friends and family that have supported me on this journey. This year would have been great but next year is promising to be even better.