Swim Bike Run - Part 2

OK, I’ll be honest. I’ve done my level best to try to create an urban design connection to this, the second in a two-part post about the ten-year anniversary of my completion of Ironman Florida, but I’ve got nothing.  Don't worry, I’ll be on about something else next week.

The sea was angry that day.  A 2.4-mile swim is a difficult proposition in the best of circumstances, but on this day, it was like swimming in a washing machine. As a consequence of the choppy waters, I caught a few mouthfuls of seawater that induced an inglorious return of that water to the ocean. Training in the placid waters of the Sportsbarn indoor pool helped prepare me for endurance, but didn’t do much to prep me for the course. It also didn’t do much for mental preparation. While training at the pool I was thinking about things like the urban public realm and how we were going to make it through another Downtown Plan meeting. While during the race I was thinking, dear lord, I’m half a mile from shore, I could drown, there are sharks out here, I just threw-up seawater, and this wetsuit is giving me a nasty rash on my neck. I emerged from the brine with an awful time of 1 hour 45 minutes- about half an hour worse than it should have been.

Of the three phases of the race, the bike was the least exciting. The ride was long and uneventful (TWSS). The one interesting thing that happened was that I got the first flat tire of the whole process about 10 miles in. Despite the fact that it was November, the mosquitoes were still out in full force on the panhandle- I got eaten up during the four minutes it took me to replace the tube. This race course highlighted the one deficiency that downtown Chattanooga has for IM training. That course is flat- the only grade change on the course is a small bridge. Try finding a flat place to ride around here. I satisficed by riding moccasin bend from the hospital to Pineville road and looping back and forth as many times as it took to hit my training distance for that particular day. The 112-mile ride took me 7 hours. I was hoping that the time would be a little bit better, but compared to swim, it was fine.

The run was the portion that I was most prepared for physically. I came into the IM on the heels of a couple of marathons and was pretty confident in my ability to finish strong. Based on my training and my estimation of what the rest of the day would take out of me, I figured that I had a 4-hour marathon time in me. I was wrong. The first 13 miles of the run were fine, and I was right on pace. But at the half-way point of the marathon I developed a sharp pain in my knee. Since pretty much every other part of my body hurt, I didn’t think much of it. I took a walk through an aid station and tried to run again and the sharp pain was amplified. I discovered some time later that I damaged the cartilage in that knee. One of the difficult things for a competitive athletic person is to surmise the difference between being injured and being hurt. Playing when hurt is a hallmark of a tough guy, playing when injured is for fools. By the time I felt leg pain, my ability to think was severely diminished. In fact, there was no point when I even confronted the question about whether or not it was wise to proceed, the only question was how. For the last thirteen miles of the marathon I traded off walking, shuffling, brief idiotic sprinting, and extended periods of limping. It took my almost as much time to finish the last half of the run as I thought it would take to finish the whole thing. I lack the vocabulary to describe what I went through for those last few hours. I entered some kind of surreal mental and emotional state- I know that I was changed in those few hours, but I can’t explain how.

A year of hard work, sacrifice, training, and self-denial resulted in a day of stress, injury, and exhaustion. Hard work was the reward for my hard work. So it is for those of us who endeavor to build cities. It is our privilege to be able to work toward the building of the community – the work is our reward. Unlike a triathlete, however, there is no finish line for city builders. Chattanooga was here before any of us arrived and it will be around when we go to our reward. So we work hard to build the type of place we want to live in- a place that expresses the values and aspirations of the community- then we move along. 

As I reached the last of the 140.6 miles that I traveled that day, I broke into what could reasonably be called a run. As I was high-fiving spectators and taking my final strides toward the final line, I lost it. It’s no big secret that I’m an emotional man, and will cry on cue. Couple that with the journey that my body and mind had just undergone and I was worse than Dick Vermeil watching Old Yeller. I stopped the clock in 14 hours, 53 minutes and 34 seconds. The time was three and a half hours worse than I had anticipated, but the race was everything I could have hoped for. Thanks being patient and indulging my anniversary, I'll be back to business next week.

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