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Ironman Raleigh and Ironkids

I signed up for Ironman Raleigh 70.3 last year after I purchased a Foundation entry because the race had already sold out.  At the time, my wife was registered and would be racing in the professional field, but due to a nagging foot injury, she decided several months ago that she would not be racing.  So rather than traveling by myself, we decided to make the weekend into a mini-family vacation with a race at the end of it.  Shannon found a cabin in Black Mountain, NC, which is about the half way point between Lexington and Raleigh, so our plan was to stay for 2 days with our boys and then head to Raleigh.  This particularly worked out because my oldest son, Asher, turned 6 on the day before the race, and he has been asking for us to take him camping for his birthday – so the cabin was perfect.

Even more so, the cabin truly was perfect (for Shannon and I).  No tv, no telephone, no internet, no reception.  It was complete utter peace and quite.  The downside, was that my boys wanted to know why they couldn’t watch Disney junior in the mornings, etc.  Still, they got to go hiking, play in a Tee pee, roast marshmallows, and all the other good things that kids enjoy. 

Asher and Ande atop lookout point in Montreat, NC

Asher and Ande atop lookout point in Montreat, NC

There was also a local bakey which made Asher a batman cake, and of course I brought presents for him to open.  He’s been really into Batman lately, so I purchased him a batman costume.  He wore it everywhere, and even insisted on wearing it into the hotel when we arrived in Raleigh.  He thought it was awesome when the doorman said, “Welcome to the Sheraton Batman.”

Batman and Ande at the Tee Pee in front of our cabin

Batman and Ande at the Tee Pee in front of our cabin

By the time we made it to Raleigh, it became blatantly obvious that we should have left Black Mountain earlier.  We arrived at just before 4:00.  I checked us into the hotel, ran to the expo, picked up my packet, but then had to drive over 30 minutes to drop my bike off at transition by 6:00.  Needless to say, my bike wasn’t exactly ready.  I made it all work, but the timing was close and I was rushing.  That’s when we forget things (for which the list is too long to mention).  Once I got back to the hotel, we had our special birthday dinner of cheese pizza (Asher’s request) and then his batman birthday cake.  Then we swam in the pool until it was bedtime (also Asher’s birthday request).

Race morning came quickly.  Due to the fact that Raleigh is a point-to-point race, we had to get on a bus by 5:30 am to leave from T-2.  I was up and out of the hotel room in stealth mode by 4:30.  I made it 3 blocks before I realized I forgot my water bottles back in the hotel room.  Knowing that Shannon was going to check out while I was racing, I didn’t take a key, so I had to go to the front desk to get one made at 4:30 in the morning.  I snuck in and snuck out in order to not wake the kids and headed down to transition.  I think there is a scrolling issue when using an iPad to sign up for races using Active.com, but this is the second time that I was registered as a female.  The same thing happened in Louisville last year.  I got this worked out when I went through packet pickup, but without saying so, both times I have ended up with a fantastic racking position – next to the pro’s and very close to the Bike Out.  [I’m no endorsing falsely listing yourself as a female to get a better rack in transition, but it does seem like I am on to something…]

The busride was a long one to transition, but that was fine.  I was able to get my bike ready with plenty of time, and also a number of double takes by all of the girls with bikes on either side of me who were looking at me with great suspect.  Transition closed, and the waiting began.  One of my biggest complaints about 70.3 races is the fact that men 30-34 start close to last, and I have to wait usually over an hour from when the pro’s enter the water.  This was the same on Sunday.  My official start time was 7:58.  I had a good position in the water, swam smooth, and didn’t really push too hard.  It was tough navigating through the waves of people ahead of me, but there were no disasters in the swim.  The bike started pretty much without any issues.  There is a steady incline away from Lake Jordan, before you turn onto the highway.  I was feeling good and then we turned onto the main roads and was hit by the headwinds.  The headwinds were not terrible, or anything near like what you experience in Kona, but just enough to be completely annoying.  It seemed the headwind followed us the whole way too.  I have a powermeter on my bike, so I don’t really focus much on the factors I can’t control, I hit my goal power, but the wind clearly slowed things down because my time was much slower than usual.  I was able to maintain my nutrition.  I drank SWORD during the bike, so no need to carry tons of salt tablets.  I did pack one Clif Bar – White Chocolate Macadamia Nut.  It tasted like heaven at the 25 mile mark until I hit a bump and dropped 3/4 of the energy bar cause I was fingertipping it in the aerobars.  I wasn’t going to stop to get it, but I was pretty bummed about it – those things taste so good.  There were only 2 people who physcially passed me on the bike, so I was feeling pretty good, and overall I rode fairly conservative in order to save myself for the run.

The transition from the bike to run came quickly.  I had heard before the race that T2 was at the top of a hill and if you’re not ready, you won’t have time to click out of the pedals.  I was prepared, but it really does come up quickly.  There were so many people at the transition, that when I got off my bike, I could hear Shannon and the boys yelling for me, but I couldn’t actually find them in the crowd.  I changed shoes quickly, and headed right out.  My goal for the half marathon was to break 1:20.  I knew the first mile it probably wasn’t going to happen as the first 4 miles were totally forced.  I felt terrible, stiff, and didn’t really feel any bounce in my legs.  I know this is normal coming off the bike for several hours, but I was hoping to have a little more pep in my step.  I did receive some unaticipated crowd support that helped tremendously.  This was my second major raced wearing the Big Sexy Racing team kit, and I found it surprising how much notioritiy this immediately brings.  For the majority of the race and particularly for the first 3 miles, I had people cheering for “BSR,” and yelling out “Go Sexy!”  There was also a guy who followed me snapping pictures and filming me run (I suspect he might have been a family member of someone on the team).  Either way, it provided a little motivation to get myself in gear and run faster.  After the first turnaround, I started to feel better.  My cadence was picking up, and it started to feel less stressing.  I picked up the pace and started picking people off.  Although I slowed during the 3rd quarter of the race, I was able to rally and the final quarter was my fastest of all of them – averaging 5:47 per mile.  One of the best aspects of Raleigh 70.3 is the finish in front of the capital where there was tremendous crowd support.  As I neared the finish line, Asher jumped out to give me a high five and I saw Shannon, Ande and one of my closest friends from college and his two boys cheering me on.  I finished strong, and my final time was a 4:21, good enough for 2nd in my age group and 21st overall (5th amateur). 

Finishing Raleigh 70.3

Finishing Raleigh 70.3

Finish line with Ande, Asher, and Shannon

Finish line with Ande, Asher, and Shannon

I’m never one to sit around, so immediately following the race, we were on a tight schedule.  We ate lunch, waited the obligatory 2 hr Ironman 70.3 penalty for finishing early before you can get your bike, and quickly got back on the rode to make the 8 hour drive back to Lexington.  It was a tough drive.  Fortunately, we made a clutch purchase before leaving town in a portable dvd player.  Asher watched movies the whole way home, and Ander broke it up with a 3 1/2 hour nap (must have been a long weekend…).  Everyone including my wife and kids were exhausted, and despite our urges to pull over and stay the night in the hotel, I had to get back because I had a new child that was starting treatment this morning at 6:30am.  We made it home at about 10:30, and by the time I unpacked the car and got settled in for bed, it was midnight.

I was up at 5:30, and rolled into the cancer center at about 6:15 this morning to find my patient, Anthony, already waiting for me.  He was sitting upright in his bed with his big beaming smile, and his mom next to him.  He was so proud of his new haircut, which he asked for and received over the weekend.  A mohawk!  It looks awesome, and he is so excited about it.  He is as brave as they come for his age, and quite inquisitive as well.  Before everything was setup, he was already trying to go into the room and get started, and then he proceeded to drill the anesthesiologist about the different equipment he was using and what he was going to be doing.  With this the anesthesiologist turned to me with a smile, and gave me the “its-6-o’clock-in-the-morning-and-I’m-getting-drilled-by-a-6-yr-old look.”  It just made all of us laugh as just a few days ago, you could tell Anthony really wasn’t feeling himself, but thankfully after a few days of chemotherapy and some other medications, he obviously is feeling a little more like himself.  At this point, unless you are around him constantly, its hard to tell that he is sick, but the reality is, he’s fighting for his life, and he’s only 6. 

Meet Anthony – One Tough Kid:

Anthony image

Anthony is a 6 year old boy whom I have known for some time, and he’s one tough kid.  To say he has been through a lot is an understatement.  He was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma a year and a half ago.  He underwent months of chemotherapy, a large surgery to essentially remove his right shoulder, and I treated him with radiation a little over a year ago.  Unfortunately, his Ewings Sarcoma just recently relapsed (less than 2 weeks ago) and in a particularly bad location – in his brain and base of skull.  This time around, surgery is not really an option, so he is receiving chemotherapy again, and the last thing I did before leaving for Raleigh this weekend was I coordinated and completed the planning for his radiation treatments.  Its a scary treatment so we are using anesthesia, and in order to not impact his life too much by making him miss breakfast each day, we are treating him early (6:30am) – and he started today. 

Over the weekend in Raleigh, there was another race that was held in conjunction with the half ironman – the Ironkids running race.  This was a race open to young kids where depending on their ages, they run anywhere from a quarter of a mile to 1 full mile.  We didn’t make it to town on time Saturday for my two boys to do the race, but we have done similar races in the past.  Its always amazing to see the satisfaction and joy the kids experience when they finish the race and are given a finisher’s medal.  In the grand scheme of things, its so simple and straightforward.  Even the adults racing in the longer races gain tremendous satisfaction simply by finishing.  Now, not to take away from the feat of finishing one of these endurance races, but is has frquently occurred to me that for the kids finishing cancer treatments, there’s often no reward to them other than a pat on the back.  Young kids do not understand the gravity of their situation, and frequently don’t even really comprehend why they have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation.  Over the past few years, I have worked with a few individuals to gather race medals that are left over from one of the local half marathons or other races to give to some of the children when they finish chemotherapy and/or radiation, because that too is a feat worth rewarding.  As I think about the kids who did the Ironkids race this weekend, I do not think their accomplishments were trivial (please do not take that away from what I am saying), I simply look at some of the children that I care for, and recognize that their own challenges are clearly worthy of the Ironkid designation – just without the guarantee of a medal.  And as I think of what “Ironkid” means to me, I think Anthony is the perfect example.

After his treatments this morning, I went to Anthony’s room first to check and see how he was doing, but also to ask permission to take his photograph and talk about his story.  While there, I was asked to sign his puppy dog (he was given a stuffed dalmation for which everyone has been writing words of inspiration and wisdom for him).  Its obvious that everyone sees in him what I do, as all of the sayings referred to him as being tough, strong, and mainly for also being such a wonderful person.  He has a long road in front of him with all the treatments that he is going to require, but it certainly makes my job easier to provide as much help and treatments as I can when my patient is such a pleasant and inspiring child.  It also teaches me a valuable lesson about complaining – the aches and pains of racing in triathlons which are voluntary are pretty miniscule in the grand scheme of things.  So, I’m not even going to mention how my body feels today.

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