Occasionally we all do something that makes people question our sanity. On Sunday, I undertake my first Ironman triathlon. Many have asked, but why? To which I reply...because I think I can. Because I enjoy the preparation, the strategy, the test. Because I want to relate to others that have accomplished the feat. Because it will keep me healthy and out of trouble. Because I put it on my bucket list. Because there is a little insanity in all of us.
After six marathons, I sought out triathlons to focus on what I enjoy, biking; to practice what I do reasonably well, long-distance running; and to face a fear, swimming. My enthusiasm for triathlons was cast with the Cedar Valley's Peregrine Triathlon (now Accel). In the middle minutes of the swim in my first triathlon, I clung onto kayaks to save my life/swim. I wasn’t deterred, I was humbled and hooked. I enjoyed the multi-sport training and committed to getting better. My times improved. My distances increased. My curiosity to test my upper boundaries was stirring. I became enamoured with the Ironman challenge.
In any given year, I seek new challenges and the related satisfaction in achieving the goal. It can be personal, professional, family, or civic. Accomplishment is man’s (or woman’s) greatest virtue. The more it tests our intellectual, physical and/or mental abilities, the greater the accomplishment. It is through accomplishment, or the act of trying, that we evolve as individuals and a society on a whole. The potential for failure is ever present, but we learn, train, prepare and apply to overcome the fear and do big things - whether it be finishing races, building a business or solving riddles.
With any major physical feat like a marathon or century ride, the reward is internal because there is little glory in the process (unless you are measuring your waistline or like ‘maintenance eating’). As many times is the case, I learn more from the process than achieving the goal. You learn about your strengths, weaknesses and how to manage time and exertion.
I must admit, investing more than 250 hours of training put me momentarily out of balance. But I’m confident I will soon return to some form of equilibrium. I need to thank my family, friends and community. While not detached, there were times I couldn’t fully engage. But through this process, I have learned a great deal about human capacity and I can channel this knowledge into other tasks.
On August 25th, I will endeavor to finish the Louisville Ironman in 13 hours. That is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile spin and 26.2 mile run. I have accomplished a lot in the last 6 months en route to the big one. Should I fall short, I will fall knowing I’ve given it my very best. 10 years ago I was running 5Ks to battle the Wendy’s Dollar menu. That turned into a passion for the Bix, then marathons and now triathlons. Through it all, every challenge has helped me grow my three tenets of life - healthy body, healthy mind and healthy spirit. I appreciate the accomplishments of every person, of every ability. I believe that 90% of inspiration comes from within. If each person in this world picks a meaningful basket of challenges in life, the world is destined for a better place. Just imagine.
Scores of people have asked about the Ironman event. I find it difficult to put words to the experience. But alas, I must try... hopefully I can leave a few fragments of my life to those that might give a darn (hopefully that’s my children). If you take an interest, I’m glad I could entertain you! My reflections of the Ironman day…
My nerves were surprisingly subdued the few days prior to the Ironman event. Maybe this is called the ‘zone’. Or maybe I was more concerned about my parents having a great time in Louisville. Louisville Slugger, The Palace, Cherokee Park, Churchill Downs, Glassworks, and Bluegrass Brewery were visited either by the whole of us, or in parts.
But there were certainly times of anxiety leading up to the start. The mind over-toyles over last minute details - baby powder, sunblock, nutrition. Just take tire pressure- how much air should you pump into your tires? Ordinarily, I would pump to 115 PSI. Based on the advice of my race-mates and the 92 degree race-day condition, I elected for 100 PSI. It made sense considering I blew a tire on a short practice ride the day before! By Saturday night, the bike was comfortably resting in transition, my gear bags were in place, and I was calorie binging on futomaki rolls, licorice, protein bars and craisins. The lights were extinguished by 9pm and it wasn’t long before my redundant alarm clocks chimed at 4:15am- before any roosters were crowing. I walked my way to the transition area for final gear check, then joined 3000 other participants for a pre-dawn walk to the starting line.
The 2.4 mile swim: After a moving Star Spangled and a blow of the canon, participants began the continuous plunge into the Ohio River’s 81 degree water. At the beginning, I had some panic the water churned with swimmers struggling to find their place. Among the flailing arms and legs, I soon found my swim groove while the sun gently rose in the Eastern sky to warm my back. The swim went through a small marina, before turning into the slow current of the Ohio. We passed a parked barge and two bridges all while following the sounds of the transition area. I swim like a pontoon, slow, safe and steady with no wake. Swim time: 1h:22m:53s. Transition: 8m:38s
The 112 mile spin: Ironman volunteers are exceptional. From helping hands at the water exit to slathering sunblock all over my body, they make this race special. After changing into bike gear, I was on the road to the Kentucky countryside. My Specialized Roubiax is a great bike, but nothing like the ‘aero bikes’ of the tri-athletes which could set you back one year’s tuition at University of Northern Iowa. The countryside is as beautiful as they come with rolling hills, inquiring horses, and tree-canopied highways. On occasion, I would pass expensive bikes admiring their air slicing geometries and integrated fluid management systems. I always looked forward to the next aid station where volunteers would offer a smorgasbord of food/drink aid from orange slices or bonk breakers - all with Kentucky smiles! I passed two serious accidents, fast bikes probably going too fast. An accident is tragic and humbling, it is also an invitation to live more in the moment. I rolled into the transition area ready to stop. My quads were spent, my knees needed grease, and my touche was begging for reprieve. Bike time: 6h:14m45s. Transition: 8m:48s.
The 26.2 mile run: After 6 hours on wheels, I was yearning for a change of pace. New muscles, new scenery, and cheerful people. I sprinted out of the transition area running like Secretariat at the Derby, blazing speed (by my standards) for 4 miles before settling into a more modest pace. The double loop course routed runners from downtown to stately houses on the city’s fringe. In between, we passed University of Louisville, ‘Old Louisville’, and Churchill Downs. Signs like, “Smile if you pee’d yourself” made me smile, though it wasn’t true. For the first time, I took in liquid fuel out of necessity at every chance, or so my body was telling me. It also included replenishing ice in my cap and a solid fuel if my stomach could handle it. The temperature was still hovering above 90, and my body was begging for mercy. Around mile 20, I momentarily succumbed to weakness and walked 50 steps in despair. But then I thought, 134 miles were behind me, only a 10K to go. I wasn’t going to finish that day walking. I ignited the fumes and willed my legs forward. When I turned to the finish line, the crowd pulled me toward the lights of the finish line. Cow bells ringing, people wildly cheering, music rocking - all echoing on the vertical sections of metal and glass. Run time: 4h:8m37s.
As I crossed the finish line, the PA blasted, Nick Taiber… You… Are… an… Ironman. The sounds sent chills through my body, my eyes watered having realized that all the sweat, time, and bodily strain had culminated to that singular moment in time. Joy and relief set upon me like it hadn’t in months. As volunteers guided me through the finish line process, I was taken to a parallel reality, unable to speak, I surrendered to the moment.
I had a goal of 13 hours. I finished in 12 hours 3 minutes. I am satisfied, I met my challenge. Training touched every aspect of my life and now I am tasked to return to how it was. Without the self-imposed regimen of swimming, biking, running, a part of me feels lost, in a doldrum. I need to discover my next challenge be it body, mind or spirit. I better think fast, because I can’t stay in the doldrums for long, there is more work to be done, maybe another Ironman!