I managed to have a big breakthrough performance on Saturday, but it was put into a different perspective with the tragic news of Ryan Shay’s sudden death on the same day. Ryan was an athlete competing in Saturday’s Olympic Trials Marathon in NYC. He collapsed shortly after the five mile marker and was later pronounced dead.
He was 28 years old.
Ryan was a highly decorated runner throughout his life and his focus never deviated from making the U.S. Olympic team and winning the Olympic Marathon. I first met Ryan in 2005 when EAS was putting together a team of endurance athletes from a variety of sports. Ryan was the type of athlete that we all strive to be: hard-working, intelligent, meticulous, and talented.
I was not close to Ryan, but having any connection or insight to such a tragedy has left it hard for me to not say something. As athletes, we often associate happiness with success in competition, but our supporters have a much better perspective. At the end of the day our families, friends, and partners only want to see us come home safely. Their pride and happiness is not hindered by record times or podium finishes.
And it is for this reason that my heart goes out to Shay’s family and friends. They all knew that Ryan may or may not have realized his goals by day’s end, but I know that they never believed that their final “good luck” wishes would be their last words to him.
I believed in Ryan. I knew he was a man that would give his all; both in racing and life.
Rest in Peace.
I initially passed on the idea of writing much of a report. It seems hard to find motivation to talk about my own day after hearing this news. However, many folks have written to me asking about my day and I feel that it would be selfish to not let my supporters know what happened down in PCB, Florida.
So here we go.
The morning after Ironman Canada I felt a definite sense of dissatisfaction. For the first time ever I actually wanted to race the morning after an Ironman. My coach and I had planned to race Hawaii seven weeks after IMC, but I opted out to focus on Florida. I still felt that I could find better form with ten weeks of training. After years and years of training you get a sense of when you aren’t quite tapped out.
The weather cooperated with me and I managed to get through nearly everything I planned to do in those ten weeks. Clearly I finished just in time as I left Boulder with snow on the ground three days before the race.
On race morning I was ready to go. The field was substantially larger and faster than anything I had yet to participate in aside from Kona 2004. I think over 100 pros toed the line to fight for eight money spots. My hope for a pay day was looking bleak, but I wanted one last chance to race hard in 2007 so I was ready to fight for every position.
The gun went off and I found myself feeling rather comfortable in the swim. Unfortunately comfort is secondary to my desire to be fast and while I did exit the water in a new PR of 55:xx it was still further back from where I hoped to be. However, I often tell my colleagues to “never be disappointed with progress” so I’ll take it.
I had a super fast transition which I attribute to the advice from my buddy Chris “the only guy to win an IM in those compression sock things” McDonald. Essentially, you just keep everything simple. Everyone that entered to tent before me exited behind me.
I quickly settled into a groove on the bike and around mile 10-15 a group of 5-10 people began to form. It primarily consisted of Terry Kerrigan, Petr Vabrousek and myself at the front. We were rolling along nicely and reeling in an athlete or two, but unfortunately my head was telling me weird things.
For one reason or another I pulled over to the side of the road because I was certain I had a flat. It turned out that my brake calipers had shifted slightly, but I actually don’t think they were truly rubbing. I was just having a (bad/dumb/whatever) moment. Well that moment saw about 12-15 guys come flying past me. I hopped back on and started rolling again with the group sitting about 20 seconds up the road. The scenery didn’t change much and neither did my position for the next 30+ miles. I could see that Terry was doing almost all (or maybe it was all) of the pace work and no one was going around him.
I slowly started to reel them in and at the mile 50 mark I made a strong surge to get ahead of that entire group. My plan was to try to break from the group and keep things strong until the turnaround (at mile 75 or so) when I could get a look at the way the race was shaping up. However, it was hard to break away from everyone no matter how hard I tried. I figured I would not ride away from Terry or Petr, but it took nearly 30+ miles before we finally left everyone else behind. There were still 20+ people up the road on us, but the time gaps were reasonable. I kept everything (relatively) pinned until mile 105 when I decided to ease off a bit. I had made some big efforts on the ride (even harder than I had expected to ride) and since we had a tailwind to the finish I felt it might be wise to calm down considering the pace was above 40 kph.
I rolled into T2 with a new bike PR of 4:41:xx and made another speedy transition.
I got out onto the run and I felt tired, but reasonably tired. I was sitting in 22nd place so I knew I would have to do some work to break into the top 10, but even more importantly, I wanted to break 3 hours on the run. I had been trying to break 3 hours for past two years. In 2005 (FL) I fell short because I lacked the fitness. In 2006 (FL) and 2007 (Canada), I lacked the execution. It was finally time to change that.
The first loop of the run was pretty uneventful other than some comic relief I offered myself. I was running along around mile 3 or 4 and I thought to myself “why does this have to hurt now? Why can’t it wait until the second half?” I was getting splits to tenth place at either end of the run loop and it appeared that I was not really making up time, but it did not appear I was losing too much either.
To my pleasant surprise I kept up a nice pace to the mile 19.5 turnaround and I could see a handful of pros up the road. I knew the last 10K would be tough, but I would have to commit to a good effort to break 3 and finish in the top 10. Again, to my pleasant surprise, I kept things rolling and even as the wind picked up in my face I appeared to still have something left in me. My stomach was feeling funky, but I knew at this point that every second mattered so I did not ease up. This time I actually did not fall short of what I set out to do. I finished the marathon in 2:59:50 and made the top 10 by a matter of seconds.
Seeing 8:40 on the clock was almost a bit surreal. It has been frustrating to not see an 8 at the beginning of my finishing times for two whole years. I have to admit that I thought that my first 8:40 finish would be higher than 10th place, but I was proud of that 10th place given the talent and efforts of the gentleman around me.
I PRed everything on Saturday and I got some reinforcement that I am making real progression within the sport that is so dear to me. For that I am pleased, but I am already focused on making those times faster and the placing better.
Thanks to everyone for supporting me this year and beyond. It has been a tough and challenging year.
Please keep Ryan’s family in your thoughts, but don’t simply go about feeling sorry for them. Instead, be grateful for the people in your own lives.
Until next year,