MICHAEL LOVATO | Professional Triathlete

 

PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN

 

Ironman Texas

Date: 5/21/11

Location: The Woodlands, TX

Rank: 15th

Time: 9:03

IMTX – Triple Bogey; On to the Next Hole - As I typically do before an Ironman, I spend a fair bit of time envisioning how IM Texas might play out.  Naturally, I train myself physically to handle the rigors of racing the distance, but while putting in that training, I create several scenarios in my head. Those scenarios help me deal with the actual moments, when the battle is on, and the top triathletes in the world are doing their best to whack one another around. It’s not uncommon to have these scenarios be a bit off, and for the race to play out somewhat differently. But most times, I’m close enough with my pre-race plan that I’m ready to handle whatever comes my way.

This past weekend at the inaugural IMTX, I was definitely unprepared for the race that came my way!

Getting the chance to race so close to home, and having the opportunity to race an Ironman in my adopted home state were strong draws to this event. On top of that, I love testing myself against the very best, and the prize money on offer – along with the Kona points – assured me that we’d be racing some fast folks out in the Woodlands.  I chose to race IMTX for these reasons, and, sadistically, because I love hot, humid, and windy race conditions – and I knew would suit me well.

My lead-up since the Texas 70.3 was solid: I had overcome the calf injury that set me back; I was running strong; my cycling was better than it’s ever been; and my finely tuned swim had raised my confidence to an all-time high.  In short, I felt ready to compete.

Amanda and I arrived in the Woodlands on Tuesday afternoon, after an uneventful drive. We settled into our amazingly comfortable and accommodating homestay’s house (thank you Farrands!), and we went about preparing ourselves for the rigors of Ironman day: Amanda as world-class support, and myself as athlete.

The layout of IMTX really suits me. I love a non-wetsuit swim; I prefer a one-loop bike course; and to have three loops on the marathon really charges me up, especially on a bit of a hometown course.  I was totally fired up when Amanda and I arrived early Saturday morning to North Shore Park for the start of the swim.

I positioned myself near the athletes I deemed to be my “lead-out” men: TO and Eneko, with the other top dogs nearby.  I got out well, and found myself tucked in nicely behind the front pack. I was focusing a bit too much on boxing out the athlete to my left – to ensure that I did not lose the precious bubbles in front – and I lost awareness of my right side.  400 meters in I allowed who turned out to be Chris Lieto drop in on TO’s feet from the right, thus squeezing me to last man in the main pack.  Precariously dangling at the rear end of my swim group, I nervously peeked over Lieto to see if we were in contact, and sadly we were no longer.  Chris pulled me a long, as the frontrunners pulled away. Soon thereafter, Lieto flopped over on his back and let me pull through to take the lead.  I willingly did so, which began a bit of lead-swapping between us, with another swimmer sitting third position.

As we angled toward the finish, with a kilometer or so to swim in the final channel, I chose to cut a hard line along the embankment – something that proved to be a poor decision.  I lead Lieto down the wrong canal, costing us momentum and time and extra distance. When I was alerted by a kayaker, my first instinct was to call out to Chris that we were off course – evidently good sportsmanship is innate, as I never really thought about my decision, it just happened.  We both got back on course, and I did my best to push a strong enough pace to make up for lost time. We exited three minutes down – not exactly how I had hoped to start the bike, but close enough to still be in the mix.

Leaving T1, I felt fairly fresh and ready to ride. I have really loved riding my Kestrel 4000 this year, and I was very anxious to get going on this cycle leg.  My confidence in my cycling strength was running sky-high, and I even managed to keep positive when Lieto rolled away from me as though I was standing still. I felt strong and in control of my pace for the first 40 miles of the bike ride. My race day fueling and hydration plan was dialed in perfectly, and I was executing exactly as I needed to do. With so many humid training rides under my belt, I felt very at ease.

Just past the mile 40 mark, in the midst of the Sam Houston National Forrest, I started to feel a bit worn out.  I ran through a quick checklist, trying to determine why my legs felt like they had already ridden five hours. Everything appeared to be on track, so I continued to push. By mile 50, I finally got some company, in the form of Sebastian Pedraza. He rolled by me, which helped me to bring my effort back up to my Ironman pace, since it had be slipping since mile 40. By the time we took the left turn at mile 56, I was really hoping for a my strength to return. However, it did not. I finally chose to take a break and regroup: from mile 60 to 70, I eased up on the pressure, and did what I thought I needed to do to regain my power, to push the final 50 miles of the race.  Ten miles should typically give me plenty of time to recharge.

Quite unfortunately, when the time came to ramp back up to race effort, I had very little more than a pathetic oomph within my quads. I pushed, they laughed at me, and I tried to override their decision to go limp. What was wrong with me?!

I was passed again by a hard-charging Josef Major, but even the presence of another athlete did not seem to help restart the pistons.  I was pushing as hard as I could, but only managing to put out what typically translates to recover watts.

I have had some rough patches before, but to feel as weak as I did from mile 60 to 112 was truly unprecedented.  I was really struggling to even stay in the saddle.  With any slight incline (not unlike a driveway), I was out of the saddle and trying to push myself forward.  I wavered back and forth in my head whether or not I should make this race my first DNF – not exactly the scenario I had rehearsed pre-race!

With ten miles to go, a six- or seven-man train came rolling past. Surely the mojo was strong enough to latch on for a free ride back to town? Nope.

Entering T2 did not feel good, as one might guess.  The volunteers, the spectators, the announcers, and most importantly, Amanda were all encouraging me to continue. And again, without consciously deciding to stay in the race, I transitioned to run and began my marathon. I guess I just don’t know how to drop out.

For three sweet miles I felt like myself again.  The comfort and ease of effort I know and love were happily meeting me on course – after their cruel departure at mile 40 of the bike!  I began sorting out my head game: how many people would I run down? After all, I had pedaled soft enough for long enough that I was bound to have fresh and run-ready legs. Let’s do it.

By mile 3.65 (or so), the legs took their exit, and the difficulty I faced for so many miles on the bike was right back with me. It was hard to even think about taking a step.  As it was on the bike, this was way too early to be relying on my mental strength.  I was too fit to be suffering this badly, but what did that matter at the time?

With so many reasons to keep going, the thought of DNF did not enter my mind. Sure, I knew I could find my way to the start line of Rev3 Quassy.  Sure, I knew I could probably rally for a strong showing at Coeur d’Alene, if only I pulled the pin. But I went there to finish an Ironman, and I was determined to do just that.

My game plan became to run the best I could between aid stations, to walk when I felt like walking, and to soak up the amazing energy from the spectators.  Amanda played some of her most amazing cards by keeping me mentally positive at many points throughout the course. I’ve been with Amanda for nearly 12 years, and when she flashes me I still get giggly and flush, as though I’m the 25-year-old who wooed her in Montreal.

I got to the finish line proud as I have ever been.  My competitive day was over well before that moment, but I kept myself engaged and I finished the race because I could. I earned some valuable Kona points, I got what will soon be an amazing fitness boost, and I was able to honor the sport and the fans I love by getting to the Ironman finish line for the 27th time.

And why did things go wrong? There are some really good theories that come from my great friends and advisors: Amanda, Paula Newby-Fraser and Simon Lessing; however, rather than chose to focus on why I didn’t have my PR – on why I didn’t battle the champions on that day – I’d rather take a lesson from my golfing friends.

Today I acknowledge that IMTX was my triple bogey; and I’m already on to the next hole.

13 Comment(s)

Andree on 5/25/11 said:

I will always remember when you said to me “quitting is not who you are” when I have had those thoughts. It is not who you are either, and we both know we learn more from days like this than any other time, and there is a huge satisfaction that comes with them! Hopefully we have more days NOT like this :)
Thank you for being such a great role model!

Ali on 5/25/11 said:

I love this recap even though you had a bad day. Way to not dnf like others. It just seems acceptable to quit when things are not perfect. I have some times I am not proud of but I learn and get something positive out of each finish. Thx for sharing and congrats to you. Cheers to the rest of your season:))!!

GoSonja on 5/25/11 said:

Now that’s some serious wifely encouragement!

Tariq on 5/25/11 said:

Enjoyed reading your recap. Going through a tough day and not quitting makes crossing the finish line as sweet as finishing strong. Way to go!

dan` on 5/25/11 said:

Wow! I hope Amanda for sure makes the trip to Kona this year, I will be able to use her
“motivation” out on that damn queen K :) )))

David Garza on 5/25/11 said:

I went through the same thing out there, though not to win but PR in my hometown. I had to make the tough decision as well and it turned out to be the funnest Ironmans I have done, and it was my bday so how could it not be a great day!

Amy Kloner on 5/25/11 said:

Your attitude is so refreshing, raw, and encouraging. You’ve got the goods – both mentally and physically. All the best for the next one!

michael hutto on 5/25/11 said:

Love your courage and dedication to finish the race! We’ve all been there and love that no quit attitude. You’re a true ambassador to the sport of triathlon and Ironman! Keep up the hard work and you’ll soon crush your perfect race

OJK on 5/26/11 said:

I’m more impressed that you finished than if you finished 4th. When Pros DNF or drop out in this Sport it is very unsettling and disrespectful. Would Michael Jordan stop playing in the 3rd Quarter if he knew the game was lost? Good job on finishing !!

Randy Egge AKA Golf8aces. on 5/26/11 said:

Michael,
I am so with you in finishing. Way to gut it out. This struggle will pay dividends some time in the future.
It would be interesting for us to learn why this happened. It could help us “age groupers” avoid our own problems.
I hope you get that fitness boost and come back stronger than ever.

Randy

JAG on 5/26/11 said:

I watched half the marathon right next to Amanda and did not catch any of this type of encouragement.

Rich on 5/26/11 said:

Hi Michael, my wife and I really enjoyed watching IM TX and cheering on you and the other racers. We have both completed a few IMs so we have a deep respect for any one who trains and races in an IM. But the coolest thing is hearing about the special relationship that you and Amanda have. Good luck at IM CDA and let’s hope for a hole in one!

Ryan Oilar on 6/8/11 said:

ML, great read; a true competitor!! I’ll be racing at CDA as well and it’ll be nice seeing a teammate out there!

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