6 years ago when I started running I sat across from a friend, slack jawed, listening to him talk about his Ironman experience and at that time I KNEW that I would NEVER do an Ironman.
Now here I sit just 24 hours away from toeing the line at my first Ironman, what a difference a day makes.
The past six years have not been so much about the end result, but more so about the process... the journey if you will. It has been about reaching just a little bit higher, and pushing just a little bit harder, it has been a path of self discovery. I have succeeded often, but I have fallen short quite often as well, the important thing is that I continued to press on and fight the good fight.
Tomorrow's race is much bigger than myself, I am doing it for everyone who has ever wished me luck or has ever shown interest in my races. I am doing it for my kids to show what is possible if you put your mind to it and never give up, and I am doing it for my wife because without her support and belief in me, none of it would be possible. For all those who say they live vicariously through my exploits... you give me strength when I want to quit, but more so I hope that I inspire you to try something new, something you would NEVER do, and to discover something about yourself.
Thank you everyone for your support,
this is going to be a wild ride.
2 am: (1 am mountain time) Woke up and had a stale bagel with jam, a banana, and 2 cups of coffee. I took a shower and headed to the the parking lot where the shuttles were picking up. I arrived downtown, dropped off my special needs bags, and headed towards transition.
5 am: Nerves were starting to mount, "can I do this? 6 hours is a long way to ride? Will I be able to finish?" When I arrived at Monona Terrace I was met in the hallway by Cheryl, one of the athletes I coach, we stood in the hall for a while and talked about training and technology. We talked about training and technology, I stated how important it is to put the toys away sometimes so you get in tune with your inner pacing governor... your body knows what to do, you just have to be able to listen.
5:30 am: We parted ways and I got in line for body marking. Once I was in the transition area I went to my bike and checked my tire pressure, made sure it was in the right gear, and tried... and tried... and tried to calibrate my power meter. The power meter I got this year specifically for pacing an Ironman. No matter how many times I tried it was not registering on my Garmin... ah, technology!
6:30 am: I saw my wife and my in-laws and gave them hugs as I headed down towards the swim start.
6:40 am: Put on my wetsuit and was herded into the water... "this is it, this is going to happen." As I finally got into the water (with 2400 other people) all of my doubt washed away, I had been training almost a year for this and it was finally here.
I positioned myself in the middle several rows back hoping to avoid the washing machine effect. The gun went off and I was immediately was battered from all sides. Kicked, elbowed, tugged at, pressed on... IT WAS INSANE!!! I kept my calm and just kept swimming, I knew it was going to be a long day so I just wanted to settle in and swim steady. Typically the pack starts to break up on the swim and the beating stops after a few minutes, not so here. I continued to get beat up all the way to the first turn buoy and then was met by a traffic jam, probably 200 athletes sitting straight up in the water bellowing, "Mooooooo..... Moooooo" as if we were cattle being herded into a chute, truer words were never spoken. After I made the second turn I thought that maybe I was half way, I just kept swimming (still getting battered and bruised) and pretty soon the buoys turned orange most likely denoting half way, d'oh! Again, I just stayed steady and kept swimming. After 2 more turns we were heading back to shore. My arms were a little tired at this point but nothing major, however, I was ready to be out of the water. I swam until I was grabbing rock then stood up, ripped off my cap and goggles, and started the ascent up the notorious helix. Running up a concrete spiral is one of the last things you want to do after swimming 2.4 miles but the crowds were amazing, tons of people all the way up cheering you on to your next leg.
Ran into the conference center and stripped my wetsuit off then made a pit stop at the porto-let. Grabbed my transition bag and headed to the changing room. Put on my gear with the help of one of the fantastic volunteers and got ready to ride.
Grabbed my bike from the volunteer, saddled up, and began the descent down the helix (that's right, there's two!). For the first 20 miles of the bike I took it super easy. I knew it was going to be a long day and there were SOOOOOOO many people on the course it wasn't worth killing myself in the early part. Along the route there were several short punchy climbs followed by some quick technical descents... my goal was to keep the rubber on the road, there were still tons of athletes everywhere and saving seconds wasn't worth the risk to me so I recovered on the downhills. Along the loop there were spectators everywhere, the steepest of the climbs were lined on both sides by people in wigs and speedo's a la Tour de France... totally awesome! It was such an experience picking my way through hordes of screaming spectators as I passed people. Near the end of the loop we went through the town of Verona where down a long straight away people are lining the street four deep. People were screaming and going crazy, then I heard my father in law Herb yell my name and shortly after I saw my wife. My eyes welled up with tears and I got a lump in my throat as I thought to myself, "this is absolutely amazing and I am part of it!" I was feeling great after the first loop but I knew I was only half way done. On the second loop fatigue started to set in and the hills started to get harder but all the crazy spectators made it a little easier. At five hours into the bike I was thinking that it would be a long time before I rode a bike again. I was beginning to get nauseous, my head was starting to hurt, I was tired, and I had to pee. I finished the second loop and started heading back to Monona Terrace. To end the bike portion you have to ride back up the helix, at this point it feels like being drunk on a merry-go-round, I was sure I'd fall over.
Climbed off my bike and tried to remember how to walk. Waddled into the convention center, grabbed my bag, and threw on my shoes, visor, fuel belt, and IT band strap. Got thoroughly lubed with sun screen, made another pit stop at the commode, and headed out.
(Note: I started having knee issues three weeks before the race so I had no idea how far I'd be able to run. Anything over 10 miles would be considered a success.)
As I started the run I was feeling remarkably good. My plan was to start at an 8:30/mile pace and pick it up after 6 miles. I was having a really hard time holding back but knew I'd be thankful down the road if I did. At 2 miles in I developed a really sharp pain on the ball of my right foot, I pictured a huge blister (later I would find out it was a bruise from running barefoot on the concrete) I kept running in hopes that it would disappear. About 3 miles into the run we did a lap around the Badger's stadium on the artificial turf, it was awesome. Along the run there were a few significant hills some which I walked up trying to prolong the onset of knee pain. The first 2 hours flew by, I was feeling great and I had made it 13 miles without issue. I ran through the streets of Madison and saw my family and friends and again, teared up. At about 14 miles my world came crashing down as I started experiencing abdominal cramping. I couldn't run through it and had to walk until it passed. After walking for 2 minutes it was really difficult to start running again, it feels like you'll never run again, but I willed myself to run 100 yards and pretty soon it was 200 yards and the next thing I know I am running again. At 15 miles I started running with someone, we talked about our day, where we were from, and what we had been consuming, me coke, him grapes. I had never thought of grapes so I decided to give them a shot and found them very refreshing. We parted ways around mile 18, 8 miles left and I was still running. I plodded along at my easy pace and pretty soon I was at 20 miles, just a 10K left! Around 22 miles I could see the dome of the capital, I was almost there. At 24 miles my knee started to tighten up and at 24.5 I had to stop running. I was content to just walk it in, I had had a good day and ran much longer than I ever thought I would be able to however one of the volunteers had other plans.
"Run it in David, you're almost there!"
"I can't run, my knee"
"You can run, it's right there!"
"I can't, my knee"
"I'm having surgery on my knee next week!!! YOU CAN RUN!!!"
And with that, I was running again. My knee was sore and it would get unbearable at times but it would pass quickly. With about a half mile to go I checked my watch, it was 6:27 pm, I could still finish in under 11.5 hours. I picked up my pace as the announcer's voice got louder. I could see the entrance to the finishing chute and picked up my pace even more. As I entered the chute I was overcome by elation and broke into an all out run. I could see the clock 11:28:40, 41, 42, 43....
"Here comes Dave Schell from Johnstown... Whoa, Look out.... Dave Schell, You are an Ironman!"
Everything came together perfectly on this day to make it one of the most enjoyable of my sporting career, I couldn't have been happier. The weather was mild and perfect, the course was challenging, the spectators were amazing, the volunteers were extremely helpful, and I had the best support team you could ask for. Over the course of the year there were several times when I questioned my decision to do an Ironman but now, with the day behind me, I wouldn't change a thing. I have said it before and I will say it again, sport imitates life and I can't think of anything that imitates life more than Ironman. The day is an emotional roller coaster, at times you are on top of the world and minutes later you are questioning your will to go on. After you have clawed your way through, and overcome all the adversity, you emerge on the other side stronger than you went in realizing, "If I can do this then anything is indeed possible".