Dave's Dickensian Tale....

Dave KerberDave's Dickensian Tale
By David Kerber
Today was the worst day I have had in my 2 year career of triathlon…and it was also my best day. Today I raced the Duluth Superiorman Half Ironman (my first half ironman), and it was the hardest test of strength, endurance and will power I have experienced in all my 26 years on this earth.
Before I get into the details of race day and the lessons-learned, let me first set you up with the prelude to this race day story.  Training:  20 week plan win which I hardly ever deviated and almost always felt fresh and strong (ok, there were maybe a few days I felt tired and sore).  Confidence:  All-time high!

I had done my training and knew I could cover the distances and cover them fast (fast for an age-grouper).  Race week:  Perfect!  The right food, the right training/rest ratio and the right company (I spent a few days with my fiancé at my Sister’s cabin with her husband and my four nieces and nephews).  Day before:  Relaxed!  I graduated from University of Minnesota Duluth in 2009 so I wanted to get to town early that day and check out campus, walk around Canal Park and enjoy the beautiful city.  It was such a great day with my beautiful fiancé and our puppy…I was ready.  Morning of:  Good sleep, good warm up…ready to put it all on the line for my first 70.3.  Now for the race recap:

The morning started off like most of my “triathlon” mornings do…before my alarm.  Usually I just head to the living room, throw on some garbage TV program and drink some coffee, but today was different because I was staying in a hotel with my fiancé sleeping soundly.  Garbage TV was not an option.  Lucky for me the hotel was located right on the boardwalk of Lake Superior in Canal Park.  So I grabbed some coffee and headed for a stroll.  I should have been a bit more cued in in to the day ahead given it was already 83 degrees at 3:30 in the morning (in Duluth??), but I was too focused on the 5+ hour journey ahead of me.  Side note:  Duluth is gorgeous that early in the morning.  (Peaceful, breathtaking and awe-inspiring).  After the impromptu walk on the Lake Superior shores, the morning followed its usual pre-race routine.  Breakfast, shower, body glide, sunscreen, transition, music, etc., etc..  
THE SWIM:  The bike and run where the disciplines that really defined my day, so I will be short with this one.  Got on a boat, jumped off a boat, swam 1.2 miles in choppy, cold water and exited to land right at my goal time of 41 minutes.  Great start!
T1:  Smooth, quick and efficient.  No dilly dally, time to start that bike up the north shore.
THE BIKE:  SMOOTH…that is until mile 23.  The first 23 miles were like nothing I had experienced in the sport.  Strong legs, smooth pedal stroke and ultimate confidence.  I was feeling good, I mean REAL good.  So good I convinced myself that with this continued bike effort I should have no problem finishing right around 5 hours (maybe less).  And then, as if the Tri Gods said “Not so fast Mr. Kerber”, the bottom fell out.  My back tire went from 120 PSI to 0 PSI in milliseconds.  The sound was unmistakable, the tire had popped, I was bested by a sharp rock.  “Luckily” I flatted nearby some on-lookers.  To my delight I was able to re-boot in 10 minutes, people are good!  A tire pump from one car and a tube from another car and  me and my “pit crew” got the tire back to 120 PSI and to my surprise, the darn thing held air.  So I put my helmet on, thanked the crew dearly, promised them beers at the finish line and headed back on the course.  33 miles left, time to make up those 10 minutes.  I pushed hard, I sustainining close to maximum effort.  I probably looked at my back tire 100 times in those remaining miles, just waiting to hear that cursed sound again.  But it didn’t come, at least not until mile 52.  For 29 miles the back tire was silent and strong.  I approached the 50 mile marker, 6 miles left…I might just pull this off.  I crunched the numbers and realized I was going to bike just under my goal time (20 mph average) with a 10 min “break”!  Ultimate confidence was back, I worried less and less about the tire as the miles dwindled down, then at mile 52 the Tri Gods said “Not so fast Mr. Kerber”.  PSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH (or however you write out that cursed noise).  “You have to be kidding me, what did I ever do to piss you off Tri-Gods”, I said in my head as I assessed the situation.  Some volunteers nearby yelled out to me “1.5 miles left”.  I was determined to get to the run, I was determined to finish this race!  I crunched the numbers once again and figured it was probably faster for me to run with my bike than wait for somebody to come assist me and get the bike up and working…so I took off.  I put my bike shoes on my aero bars and ran the course…barefoot, with my helmet snapped on.  My 5 hour goal was fading fast, but I did not care, plans are just plans until something changes them, and my plans had changed, my goals had changed, I needed to adapt.  Time to finish this “bike” strong.  Some of you mathletes out there may have noticed I flatted for a second time at mile 52 and a volunteer told me I had 1.5 miles remaining…yup…I actually had 4 miles remaining.  The final two miles running with my bike where not as easy as the first two.  My legs had felt great for the first two, but they were now cramping and tired.  My feet had ignored the pavement’s blistering heat for the first two miles, but now I could feel every step and stride as they crushed the pavement (I am not a minimalist runner!).  Finally, I hobbled into T2.  Left hammstring cramped, feet blistered and confidence shattered…but I made it to the run!  I saw my whole family right before disappearing into transition.  Folks, most of you know this, but there is nothing better in those tough moments than seeing loved ones cheer you on.  I had renewed strength.  I knew my “goals” where out, but hey, maybe I can put together a descent run and finish strong with some stories to tell.
T2:  As I got to my bike rack that boost of renewed strength from seeing my family quickly dissipated.  My left hamstring now felt more like a tear vs. a cramp (I tore my left hamstring in college and know the sensation all too well).  I plopped my bike on the rack and collapsed to the ground.  I drank and ate everything I had.  I laid on my back and soul-searched.  “What am I doing?”, “Can I run 13.1 MORE miles on a bum hammy?”, “Am I nuts?”, “This is crazy!”, “Can I finish this race?”……. “I WILL FINISH THIS RACE!”.  I crawled over to another athlete and asked to borrow his foam roller, he obliged happily.  People are good.  I rolled my left hammy to see if it was torn (agonizing pain) or if it was a cramp (dull pain).  Lucky for me it was pretty dull, so I figured it probably wasn’t torn.  I gathered myself mentally and physically, got off the ground (slowly), thanked the gentlemen dearly and headed out on to the run to FINISH the race.  I had no idea what was waiting for me on that run….Dave Finishes
RUN:  I “ran” out of transition and was hit by the 102 degree heat index!  What?  Who turned the heat on?  It’s Duluth?  The thermometers here don’t even have a place for three digit numbers!  “Oh boy”, I said to myself as I downed more food and gatorade at the first aid station, “This is going to be interesting”.  I headed out onto the course, just past the William A. Irving ship (massive ship by the way) and began a journey I will never forget.  The first few miles were exhausting.  My left leg was so severely cramped I was reduced to a straight-legged jog/run movement.  I knew I would run my slowest race, but I wasn’t concerned, I was only concerned about crossing that finish line in one piece.  From the first mile I was greeted by every volunteer the same way… “you look great 168”, “finish strong 168” or “keep pushing hard 168” (168 was my race number).  I knew these folks were lying to my face, but it didn’t matter, because I knew they were there to support me.  Let me take quick timeout from the story to thank the volunteers.  The volunteers at this race were among the best people I have ever had the pleasure to interact with.  They were positive, friendly and always SEEKING an opportunity to help an athlete.  I believe the volunteers were met with challenges during that race similar to the challenges we athletes faced.  It was 102 degrees, and they were out there volunteering their time for us…it is weird to say and even weirder for me to write out.  Their selfless choices kept me and others alive and I wish I could thank each of them individually.  Ok, back to the run.  I’ll try to keep the details and stories to a minimum, which will be hard because there are so many to go through.  At mile 6 the wheels really began to fall off.  I had a “no walk” policy that I had abided by up to that point, but then as if the Tri Gods wanted to prove me wrong once again, all the muscles in my legs began to cramp…I needed to walk.  First it was 2 minutes of walking.  Then it was 5 minutes of walking.  Then finally it was a walk/jog race for me.  My first encounter was with a younger gentleman (early 20’s) named Erik.  We began “running” together and eventually spurred a conversation.  This was a first for me.  I don’t talk or interact at all on the bike or run, something I may reconsider.  As we began to go through the typical “What’s your name and where are you from?” I realized that I really ENJOYED this guy’s company.  You could just tell he was a good guy that worked hard, I mean, he was out there right?  After a few more pleasantries he dropped in the conversation that this was his first triathlon.  “First triathlon and you take on a half ironman?”, I said to myself as we kept pushing forward.  Eventually my cramped legs were too slow for his pace and he took off ahead of me.  I would then catch up to him at every aid station.  I would drink Gatorade and dump cups of ice water on my body as fast as I could to assure that I could at least start the next run with him on the way to the next aid station.  This went on for about 7 or 8 aid stations until finally I couldn’t catch him.  As he disappeared I felt sad and happy.  Not sad that he was “beating” me, but sad that I was losing a friend.  And I was happy that he was beating me…something I do not ever feel in a race.  I later saw Erik on a stretcher at the finish line, but I will tell more about that at the end.  The final miles felt like an eternity.  I was surrounded by people that all looked to be in physical and emotional pain, but we were all together!  I look around, athlete after athlete and truly felt like I belonged.  I could barely speak, but when I saw an athlete hunched over I would yell “finish strong!” or “you can do this!”.  And conversely, I would have numerous athletes yell the same to me.  It was truly magical to be out there with all those people.  Finally, I saw the 11 mile marker…2.1 miles left.  Right around that time I met up with an elderly gentleman.  Wouldn’t you know it, we began talking and decided to finish the race together.  He was telling stories about his kids and I was telling stories about my fiancé, we were  best of friends.  We finished the race together, side by side, nearly holding hands.  As I crossed the finish line I felt the ultimate rush of triumph.  I had never felt this before…in all my races, in all my PR’s, I had never felt an accomplishment this big…just finishing!
I promised I would tell you more about Erik.  As I was chowing down on food and gulping Gatorade in the finisher’s tent I noticed a young man being taken away on a stretcher.  I paused as I recognized the back of his head, “That has to be Erik?!”, I said to myself as I chased down the stretcher.  I ran after him, I just had to know if it was him, and if it was, I had to make sure he was ok.  I approached the side of the stretcher and sure enough, it was Erik.  I asked him what happened  and he replied “Dave, right?”.  Thank God, he remembered my name, he must not be in too rough of shape.  He then said “I’m a little light-headed, probably need an IV”.  Thanks God!  I said good luck and it was a pleasure meeting him.  As the stretcher pulled away I now felt all the aches in my body…consequences for “sprinting” after the stretcher.  Totally worth it!  He had given me renewed strength on the course, and he managed to do it again.  As my fiancé caught up to me she asked me if I knew him, I replied, “Yes I do, I do know him, and he’s going to be all right” I said with the biggest smile on my face.
Ok, so what does this all mean?  What did I learn?  What are my takeaways?  Well, I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about the sport and the amazing people that participate.  I think it would be easiest to list out my lessons:
 Plans are just plans, there always needs to be room for adjustment.
 People are good.  I firmly believe that all people are inherently good.
 Our sport can be kind of crazy…and I love it even more knowing the limits people will push their bodies to.
 Goals, times and PR’s are all good and fun, but the true spirit of the sport is accomplishment, brotherhood and smiling.
 Family and/or people who support you are the greatest gift, and that is a gift that needs to be appreciated and reciprocated.

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