Sunday, November 25, 2018

Now What?

It is six weeks post Ironman.  I watched the NBC special today.  I am still emotional (read -still crying a lot).  And yes I still wear my medal and share my race day experience every chance I can. I am starting to see the magnitude of what I accomplished. 

I am back to my normal life in Denver, CO- hanging with the family, working my normal hours, exercising my "normal" amount, running trails, etc. .  Although I feel my athletic fitness is fading by the day, I am somewhat ok with it.


Just me wearing my finisher jersey at the grocery store


So many people are asking me about the Ironman.  What was it like?  How did you do it?  What were you feeling when you finished?  So many people continue to congratulate me for an amazing athletic feat.  I love to share my experience.  It keeps it fresh and present in my "post Ironman" life.  In fact, I was reminded today that I have entered into a new level of bad-assery.  No one can ever take that away from me.  I still haven't gotten an "M-dot" tattoo, but I will at some point.  I view it as another opportunity to share my war stories when someone asks me about it.

In a previous blog, I challenged myself not only with accomplishing the goal of finishing the Ironman and raising a bunch of money to help cure blood cancers;  I asked myself more importantly, "What will I become in pursuit of this goal?"

This is what I have come up with so far:

I became super disciplined with my workouts.  This was driven out of fear - Fear of not finishing with thousands of people watching.  I had my moments when I didn't want to get up to do the scheduled workouts.  They were few and far between. Being disciplined to my training plan got me to the starting line strong and injury free and then allowed me to finish strong and injury free.  I worked out 15-24 hours/week.  I lost 10 pounds.  I regained the body shape that I had in my 20's.  And I can say at 50, I am in the best shape of my life. 

I learned that bad days happen.  But they will not define me and they will pass.  I made some big mistakes in my training and in races leading up to the big event.  When things didn't go well, I had to accept the fact that things weren't going as planned, adjust my plan, and adapt to the circumstances.  I finished every race that I started.  I did this by keep moving forward.  The race times may not have been what I had hoped for, but I persevered though the adversity.  I learned first hand that perseverance fueled by resiliency are necessary tools in dealing with life as it comes at me. 

"To err is human."  I made a ton of mistakes along the way.  I didn't let them define me.  I looked at them as learning opportunities.  I rarely made the same mistake twice. No one is perfect. I was very human on race day, and continue to be today (and everyday).

I was teachable.  I started doing triathlons in 1993.  However I hadn't done one in 10 years.  My coach Charley Perez was a huge source of knowledge and inspiration to me. He offered advice and I took it.  My brother Jeff was also there for me. Both graciously fielded my questions about training, equipment, nutrition and happy to share their experience with me.  I watched 100's of hours of youtube videos about triathlon techniques, courage, overcoming adversity, etc.  I became a student of the sport. I still have a lot to learn. 

I learned to ask for help. I am uncomfortable asking for help by nature.  I like to do everything myself.  Just as I was uncomfortable with my athletic goals,  I had to step out of my comfort zone and ask for help.  I set a goal to raise a lot of money.  I asked just about everyone I knew to help out.  Many gave financial donations, many gave words of encouragement.  All were appreciated.  I learned that people want to help me as I was doing a really cool thing.  Every dollar raised and every encouragement gave them the opportunity to play a part in a successful outcome. Looking back in my life, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of humility and strength.

Angels appeared just at the right time- every single time. This constantly happens in my life.  It has never become more evident to me than throughout this endeavor.  So many people offered their unique encouragement that made all the difference to me.  Whenever I struggled, inspiration came from the most unexpected sources. Race week and on the actual race day, there were so many angels, I thought I was in heaven.  (I was - heaven on earth)  It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite authors.  “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.”-Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist . The Universe definitely conspired in my favor.  It still does.  

The power of visualization really works.  Every run workout, I visualized the red carpet leading up to the finish line.  I visualized that I will have accomplished the impossible and all the emotions that go along with it.  I visualized my wife and kids greeting me at the finish putting the medal over my head.  I hoped that they saw that anything can be accomplished with grit, determination and a solid plan of action.  I visualized the swim start, the most chaotic part of the race.  I practiced being calm in the face of chaos.  I spent time each day in meditative contemplation.  The race is 10% physical, 90% mental.  I needed to train my brain to be ready for anything that came my way.  

This accomplishment has inspired so many people to step out of their comfort zone.  I am not an extraordinary athlete.  I am as average as it gets.  I think that is why so many people followed along for the ride.  Many think that "If Brett can do it, so can I".  We only have one life to live.  I try to live each day to the fullest.  Every day is a new day with a new adventure.  Whether it is to do an Ironman, climb a mountain, or be the best dentist I can be to my patients, I show up for life.   

So few people get to hear the impact they had on the world while they are alive.  I received so many letters and well-wishes that it was emotionally overwhelming. These sentiments are usually only shared at one's funeral. It wasn't always this way.  20 years ago while active in my addiction, no one was telling me that I had a positive impact on them and no one wanted me around.  Recovery offered me a new lease on life and I didn't wast to waste one minute of this bonus time.  This gift allowed me to see that my life continues to have meaning and purpose. I told my wife after reading all these, that no matter what happens in the race, I already won. This realization was the biggest gift I have ever received. I never set out to change the world in a big way.  But everyday I try to affect people/places/things in a positive way, this adds up to big changes over time.  

The true accomplishment isn't that I finished, but that I had the courage to start. I view opportunities as closing windows.  They may not always be there when I am ready, or when life is a little less hectic.  In my experience, there has never been the perfect time for a new challenge. I never regretted taking the chance.  Not all of my goals have been accomplished, but by setting them and creating a plan of action, I have been satisfied with my efforts. 

I need to have more goals. I find I am most alive when I am challenging the status quo; pushing the bar a little higher; making the world a little bit better.  Right after the Ironman, I went to Oahu to attend the American Dental Association's Annual Session.  I was elected to be a Trustee to the ADA representing the 14th District (Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming).  This is a four year term that starts next fall.  I am already diving into my leadership books, podcasts, working on my public speaking, clearing out my schedule, etc. 

My goal is to show up for this commitment fully prepared so I can be most effective in my role as Trustee.  It is a different goal than finishing the Ironman, but it really isn't. The lessons I learned should serve me well in the future. 

...The adventure continues...

I am sober, a husband, father, dentist, advocate, endurance athlete, speaker, writer, leader and follower. The blog -  If you like it, please follow me on my adventures. If you love it, please share! If you hate it, thanks for reading. It's not for everyone...






Thursday, October 25, 2018

Ironman World Championships - Kona, HI October 13, 2018 . The Race of my Life!




I had the opportunity to race at the Ironman World Championships October 13, 2018.  This is the equivalent of getting to the Super Bowl or the Olympics.  It is a dream that was hatched in 1993 when I did my first triathlon on a dare.  I had no skills whatsoever!  When I signed up, there was a check box on the paper application to put me into a lottery for the Hawaii Ironman.  Of course, I checked the box!  

Back then, I never would have been able to accomplish this feat.  I had no idea what it entailed.   I needed 25 years participating in dozens of triathlons, marathons,  and ultras to gain the experience required for me to even conceive that I could do this event. 

I remember seeing Julie Moss struggling, crawling, reaching for the finish at Kona on Wide World of Sports.  Most normal people were completely aghast by this sight.  I was intrigued.  Some day I would love to do this race, I thought to myself.  

Many years later after several olympic and half Ironman distance races, I am back racing triathlons. I took a ten year hiatus from the triathlon world and just focused on trail running,  marathons, 50K and 50 Mile events. I love being on a trail somewhere watching the sun come up with my dogs.  I love to push myself to see what’s possible.  

And I love an adventure.  This one turned out to be the adventure of my life!

I had no plans to get back into triathlon but an opportunity came up in an unexpected way. Most of the other racers got into this race by qualifying at another Ironman.  I am not fast nor do I want to do a different Ironman to attempt to qualify.  I only wanted to do one - Kona.  I resigned myself to the fact that it would never happen. 

In 2001, I joined The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (TNT). This organization raises money for blood cancer research.  I had recently moved to Denver and was looking to meet some new people to train with and raise money for a good cause.  

By this time, I had done several triathlons and I was ready to take my running to the next level.  Soon after I joined up to do the Chicago Marathon, I saw how much running was involved, I quickly switched back to triathlon - it seemed a lot more fun!

Our team did the Los Angeles Triathlon that year and had an amazing experience.  This event was a national Team in Training event and hundreds of "purple people" were racing.  I dubbed them "Purple People" because we all wear purple jerseys and shirts. We collectively raised well over $2M that year.  It went to fund a research portfolio in Seattle that led to the development Gleevec - a revolutionary new drug that treated Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML).  I felt pretty good about that, though there was no direct relation of mine with CML or any blood cancers.  

The following year our team coach, the legendary Charley Perez, asked me if I could help out as an assistant coach.  I was honored and quickly agreed.  Over several seasons, I coached with him, Mary Carey and Paul Bergquist.  I was certified by Dave Scott as a triathlon coach and kept it all going with TNT.  As my family grew, my desire grew to be more involved with them.  I also wanted to be more involved with state and national leadership within my profession of dentistry,  I stepped away from coaching for a few years.  I came back to coach a few winter marathon teams but again, life and professional obligations took me away from Team in Training. 

Then a tragic twist of fate occurred.  In 2009, my mom was diagnosed with CML. She took Gleevec and other drugs that kept her alive for 8 years before her organs failed.  She succumbed to the disease in May 2017. 

I looked back to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for support.  They asked me if I wanted to fundraise again.  They suggested I to participate in one of their “Man/Woman of the Year” campaigns.  This was a 10 week campaign to raise as much money as possible through my circle of influence to fund research to find a solution to blood cancers. I attended a Man/Woman of the Year banquet and was completely moved by the amazing fundraisers.  However, this didn’t feel like it was the right fit for me. 

A few years prior, my friend Khem Suthiwan another long time TNT participant/coach did the Hawaii Ironman though TNT.  I watched her through her fundraising and training blocks. I followed her all day during her race on the Ironman tracker. I even stayed up to watch her cross the finish online.  

Another seed was planted.  

I asked if there was an Ironman slot available? I had to apply, write an essay explaining why I would be a good candidate.  After an extensive interview process, I was accepted. 

Oh shit - now what?  I haven’t done a triathlon in over 10 years (also the last time I swam).  I had a 50 mile trail race the following week and I knew I had to finish as it would be a good physical as well as mental training day.  I suffered through that for 13+ hours.  

I quickly hired my old friend Charley Perez to coach me.  I had to start over with learning how to swim, bike and (road) run again.  He put together the perfect training plan to prepare me for the race.  (Thank you Charley!)

My training took me through 18-24 hours a week to prepare me for this event. Lot’s of double workout days, lot’s of long rides and long runs.  I travel a bit and had to make things work with hotel gyms, treadmills, local pools, etc.  I was committed, though I didn’t sleep much.


I can go on and on - but let’s get to the race… 



T-minus-1 day. (Am I getting married again?)

In the morning the day prior to the race, I was to meet my brother for a swim at 9:00. I had been here for six days with my family and best friends Gary and Dione Benson.  My brother Jeff and sister-in-law Diane arrived the previous night.  We had been having a nice vacation, and they allowed me to do what I needed to do to prepare.  Clyde Waggoner also arrived on Thursday. I was fired up to have so many friends and loved ones here to support me for the race. 

I delayed our meeting time because I realized I had to get everything packed up and dropped off this morning at 11:30. I mentally visualized every aspect of the race and created a checklist of everything I would need out there on the course.  

I had to think about my nutrition - What kind of food/gels/liquids, etc. for each part of the race (breakfast, pre-swim, swim/bike transition, bike, special needs bag for the bike, bike run transition, run, special needs bag for the run). How much?  Where should I store it while racing? Can I just use what’s on the course?  Why didn’t I plan this part better?  Trail running is so much easier to plan!

Jeff, Diane and I went for a swim.  It was good see them.  They were stoked to be here - in fact, everyone was stoked to be here! The swim was great to get some of the jitters out, burn off some nervous energy and loosen up in the water. After our brief swim, we parted ways.  They went to explore the IM village, grab some lunch.  I went to meet my team at the bike drop off. 

I showed up to find a long line of people that extended up an entire street block.  After some pictures with Khem (now with 303 Triathlon) and my Team in Training teammates, I got in line.  The energy was palpable.  Not much was said amongst us in line. Everyone was in their own heads deep in thought.  I was trying to soak it all in.   As we inched forward, it became clear that this was it.  All the preparation I have done comes down to this bike, and these bags. If I forgot anything, there is a good chance I will not do well tomorrow.  

Khem and I at the bike drop off

Don’t freak out!!  

We walked into the restricted area only accessible to those with the red wristbands. We were introduced to a chaperone that would escort us through the transition area aisles.  I felt like wedding music should be playing as were slowly walking through.  The last time I walked an aisle like this, I was getting married and I am certain that I was equally nervous! 

We stopped at a photographer that wanted to take a picture of my bike.  Of course, I posed with my bike in front of the screen.  They kindly asked me to move aside as they just wanted the bike.  How strange - Don’t you know who I am?!?  I found out later that they were taking a tally of all the bikes, components wheels, etc., for Ironman and all the triathlon support companies for future marketing purposes. 

I parked the bike in it’s numbered slot.  Left my helmet and shoes attached to the bike.  Dawn, my escort,  told me to take my bike computer with me as they were expecting rain that night.  Rain?  wtf? She asked me if this was my first time in Kona. I said yes, and this was my first Ironman. 

 “You’re first Ironman? How did you get here???” She asked surprisingly.   I explained that I was here on a charity slot representing the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I told her I have raised $65,000 so far to fund research to help cure blood cancers.  She was a nurse with a friend who’s daughter was a survivor.   She was in awe in what I was doing and competing here.  She was a regular volunteer that came back year after year. 

She walked me though the bag drop sections and the changing tent.  She said that I will have all my needs met at in the changing tent.  Hmmm...a giant food buffet, maybe a massage…but she laughed and said no.  That’s for after the race.    

I had been emotional all week; crying on average twice an hour.  It was becoming quite real that this was happening and at this time tomorrow, I will be on my bike riding the race.  Deep breath….I’ll be honest, several tears of gratitude were shed as I walked through the transition area.  

Afterwards, I hung out in front of the hotel. There were several Team in Training (TNT) support family, friends and staff.  Ryan and Sarah, our TNT ambassadors were amazing.  They made sure that we racers and our families were supported with anything they needed.  They procured some VIP passes so Gina and my two youngest daughters (Sydney and Riley) could greet me at the finish line.    Clyde, Dione and Jeff all volunteered as finish line catchers so that could be there to welcome me home as well.  

I went to my condo and chilled out the remainder of the afternoon.  I tried to nap, but to no avail. Gina requested several friends to write me letters wishing me well on race day. This was one of the most special gifts I have ever received.  

To hear the effect I have had on literally hundreds of people via letters, texts, emails, donations, etc. was nothing short of grace. It was a beautiful gesture which I will never forget. 

Charley called me and went over final race strategy.  He reminded me to relax, run my race and stick to the race plan.  He also told me to plan for rain.  I was in denial - it won't rain, how could it rain?  Shit - what if it did rain?

We had everyone over to the condo for a pizza dinner. We discussed race plans, spectator plans, finish line plans, etc.  I was so grateful to have everyone to be there and I am shit scared right now.  

The "Purple People"


That night, it rained.  In fact, it rained in quantities of buckets.  Now my mind started to strategize how to race in the rain. Would they cancel the swim? Should I wear my rain jacket on the bike ride? I will have go slow on the bike. What if there is lightening?  At least it will be cool.  No sun baking down on us in the heat of the day. 

After dinner, I moved into a hotel room near the start.  This was a huge coup from Clyde for us.  I only had to go downstairs to start the race. And all my people would have access to the central hotel all day.

I slept great.  In fact, I forgot to set my alarm.  Thank goodness Clyde and Gary did.  Sleeping through the Ironman would have been a lot to explain! Why didn't you do the Ironman?  I slept though my alarm - DOOH!

 I got dressed and ate some food. 

I went down to get body marked and do some final set up.  I was number 755.  I filled up my bike water reservoir.  Put my bike computer on and returned upstairs.  It had stopped raining - thank goodness.  I used the bathroom one last time.  I got last minute well wishes from everyone and went down to the start. 


Pre-race -Last goodbyes,  Here I go!
 You can’t race all day if you don’t start first thing in the morning!


All the racers were in a staging area near the beach on the opposite side of the pier from the start.  It was barely light.  I went for a little swim.  The water was perfect temperature.  I swam out to a private area.  My friend Maria told me to go under water and scream as loud as you can to let off the pre-race nervous energy.  I went under and I screamed.  I screamed from a primal place that rarely gets accessed.  I am quite emotional by now.  It was so freeing.  I then floated on my back for a while and meditated as tears filled my eyes.  

This was going to be a defining day in my life.  Several months of intensely focused training.  Decades after the idea was hatched, I was going to toe the line.  Years of endurance events to gain experience and confidence.  Years of life events both good and bad.  Almost two decades after getting sober, I get to accomplish a lifelong dream.  I say a prayer of thanks to the man upstairs.  I recognize that today will be filled with Grace and I want to stay in that space.  I pray for safety, strength and discipline.  I also acknowledge everyone who is supporting me both near and far.  

BOOM!!!!!

I always loved the start of a triathlon. There is such a dichotomy of experiences that I get to witness as a participant. 

Above the water -  Mass chaos. Water splashing. Clear noise. Music. Cheering, Announcer rousing the crowd. Bright sun, technicolor, deep blue sky. 


Pier just before the swim start 
Below the water -Muffled sounds. Shades of green colored hues. Bubbles. Movement. Muted voices. Sun rays like laser beams piercing through the water.  A mass wave of movement creating momentum in the water driving us forward. 

Practice swim the day before the race


At the swim start we skim the line and get to discern and navigate through both realities.    

I lined up for the swim towards the back and settled into my space.  No need to burn any matches here.  The swim is just something that I need to get through to get to the bike.  The plan was to draft off others so as to  conserve energy.  I fell into a good group of swimmers that were my speed.  We all helped each other through.  

Men's swim start


In the first quarter mile, I see a swim cap slowly floating to the bottom.  Then I see a pair of goggles following it.  I wonder what happened there.  It would suck to do this swim without goggles!  

We kept the large yellow buoys to our right as we swam out 1.2 miles.  I kept in pace my group. I swam smooth, and kept my heart rate under control.  I didn’t swallow or choke on any water. The course was a large rectangle and there are two large boats at the turn around. The buoys became pink on the way back to shore.  

I saw a diver on the bottom at the turnaround.  He was filming us as we swam by.  I gave him the aloha sign.  He gave me the aloha sign back as a puff of bubbles exited his regulator.  I am sure I made him laugh.  

Still cruising along in my groove.  I notice someone bumping into my feet.  It was the leaders of the women's wave that have now caught up to us.  They started passing through our little group like we were standing still.  I jokingly called our little group of swimmers the “swim losers” because we were so slow  The women started 15 minutes after the men.

With about 1/2 mile to the swim end, the women age groupers came through en masse.  Our little group got taken over; our space completely filled with this increased volume of swimmers and things became chaotic.  One unexpected bonus was that the forward momentum created by all these fast swimmers helped propel us faster towards the swim end.

The only "downer" of the entire day.  A female swimmer grabbed my left foot to pull herself forward, then she grabbed my shoulder to do the same.  She must have been a water polo player.  Well I played basketball - so I gave her an elbow to the gut.  She stopped yelled at me. I yelled back - Don’t fucking grab me!  And then she was then gone.  I hope she got several flat tires, cramps, stomach issues and lost to someone who played by the rules.  

I could now see the crowd on the pier.  I could again hear the music and the PA announcer.  Time to bring it in.  It was a bit sad to end the swim. I knew the hardest part of the day was ahead.  I exited the swim with a smile.  I rinsed off at the “hose showers".


Swim exit - Still smiling!


I heard someone yell my number out and had my bike bag ready.  I went to the changing tent.  I ate some food, drank water and gatorade.  The volunteers there helped me take off my skin suit and put on my tri-jersey. I trotted around the transition area to find my bike.  

I had my bike shoes attached to the petals for easy access.  I put my helmet and sunglasses on and started riding.  However, I couldn’t get into my left bike shoe.  I stopped got off the bike, detached the shoe, put it on my feet and got moving.  Not the smoothest transition but I didn't fall and I was now moving onto the bike course!

You can’t get called for drafting when there are no other bikers around!






The first 10 miles or so are all in town and slightly uphill.  There are a lot of fast cyclists here.  I instinctively want to race and pick off riders to pass.  That would have been a nail in my coffin.  My history shows that I tend to ride way too hard and have nothing left for the run.  I stayed steady and let people go.  

As we were going up Palani Road to turn onto the Queen K, I did catch Wayne, one of my teammates with TNT, but I didn't pass him.   I noticed that he was slathered in sunscreen.  

Shit…I forgot to put sunscreen on.  

The air temperature wasn’t that hot - yet, as the sun wasn't fully up.  I wrestled with the question, should I stop and lather up, or keep moving forward.  The discipline prayer must have worked because I did stop a few miles ahead at the first aid station.  

It turned out, it wasn’t a bicycle aid station it was a run aid station.  Someone yelled that they weren’t there for the bikes and I need to move on.  I yelled to the group of people busy setting up if anyone had sunscreen.  A woman said she did.  She hadn’t unpacked it yet though and had to find it.  After rummaging through several boxes, she located it. She applied it all over my shoulders, arms and neck while I got my legs lathered up.  I thanked her profusely as she wished me well on my journey. 

I noticed as I stopped how hot it had gotten.  The sun was now fully up and burning down on us. We ride on a straight, rolling, asphalt road surrounded on both sides by endless lava fields.  

I also noticed how much I was sweating.  I needed to start drinking more, as well as ingest more salt and gatorade.  I can’t get behind.  The conditions will destroy me. 

The road to Hawi - Hot conditions, and I am still smiling


I started plugging forward on the Queen K up towards Hawi.  I love this bike course.  I was pedaling easy and moving fast. I felt like I belonged here.  There were long rolling hills on smooth asphalt. The wind was blowing off the ocean - sometimes gusting, but never did I think it was going to take me out.  

In the months of preparation for the Ironman, I asked dozens of people who had done this race to share their experience with me.  Everyone's story started with, “I don’t know if you looked it up, but the year I did the race, the waves were the worst on record, the winds were awful and the sun was the hottest it had ever been.”  

The lesson was - expect the worst weather conditions possible and prepare for extreme suffering during this race.  I purposely trained in the heat on rolling hills to prepare.  I couldn’t simulate humidity though. I was scared how my body would react to the humidity combined with the heat.

To everyone’s surprise, it was manageable.  No rain in sight, partly cloudy, high 80’s, moderate wind coming off the water from the west. The humidity was normal for Hawaii.  Not normal for me as the conditions I train in Colorado is less than 10% humidity. Because of the wind, it is hard to tell how much I was sweating. Keep drinking gatorade and water, stay ahead of the thirst.   

The ride was a blast.  I never caught up with Wayne again on the bike.  I did catch up to another teammate (Brad) and exchanged some conversation.  He had a look on his face that showed he was struggling. He said he was having nausea issues.  I told him to hang in there.  It will pass - YOU HAVE TO FINISH!  

This race holds no prisoners.  It is a killer. Anyone can have a bad day at any time.  Even with the amount of training we put in.  Sometimes shit happens and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.  

My experience from doing ultra marathons has shown me that throughout the day there will be highs and there will be lows.  When in the low points, everything seems to be going wrong in my head - I can't move forward, some nagging injury is occurring and I will undoubtedly die a slow painful death here on the course.  

I have learned to acknowledge these nadirs and keep moving forward, eat, drink, stretch, inventory, etc. and the sense of impending doom passes.  Sometimes, I just need to smile and think good thoughts and I get through it.  
 
During race-day, it is a brain game.  My mind tells me both good and bad things.  I need to keep in good thoughts.  Too much energy gets wasted when I'm in negativity.  Mental training is as important for events like this as is the physical training. Whatever is going on in my head is true.

I leave Brad, say a prayer for him as I move on.  I am reminded to keep ahead of my nutrition and stay within my race plan - Don't burn out!

I love to climb.  The climb to Hawi is legendary.  I was prepared and I was knocking off the miles on this section, passing several riders without burning more matches.  

My friend Molly gave me this advice - Put food in my special needs (bike and run) bags that would not be on the course as a treat to yourself.  I followed her direction. When I got to Hawi, I would be able to access my special needs bag.  I put two bags of frosted circus cookies.  I knew the course aid stations would be lacking in frosted circus cookies.   The last 5 miles of the climb I became obsessed over those pink and white morsels of joy.  


Mmmmm....Frosted Circus Cookies


I pulled up to the special needs aid station, got off my bike and tore into them.  They were everything and then some!  I had a nice conversation with one of the aid stations volunteers.  His name was Doug and lived in Hawi. He was a regular at this aid station and took a lot of pride in how efficient and productive they were.  I would agree. 

He asked me if this was my first time in Kona, I told him it was my first IM.  He was shocked.  I spoke about the fundraising I was doing for blood cancer research.  He proceeded to tell me he lost a family member to leukemia and thanked me for what I was doing.  

I got back on my bike. I felt him pushing the bike to help me get moving easier.  It was a very nice gesture from a great guy.  I have seen this on televised bicycle races like the Tour de France.  I felt like a pro for just a few minutes. 

I was now over half way thought the bike.  I started to realize that I was going to make it.  There was much more downhill on the way back into Kona.  I quickly reminded myself to stay in the moment.  Don’t get ahead, I still had 50 miles of riding ahead of me.  

I swear it was 5 minutes later that my legs started to cramp. 

DON'T PANIC!!!!

I shifted to an easier gear and spun my legs.  I quickly drank all the fluids that I had with me and doubled up on my salt intake. It didn’t ever fully go away but I was able to manage.   The effects from the heat was starting to become noticeable. I kept drinking a lot at the aid stations.  I also starting pouring water over my head to cool off. 

At mile 70 or so, I realized that the density of rider volume much lower.  I was pretty much all alone. I wasn’t, but by now all of the racers were spread out over this long course. 

My sarcastic brain made it clear that I can’t get penalized for drafting on the bike if no one is around. My ego started telling me I was too slow, everyone is faster that me.  I need to pick up the pace.  I had to actively remind myself that everyone here has won a race to qualify.  They were all here for a different reason.  Stick to the race plan.  No need to screw things up now!


The road back down from Hawi.  "You can't get busted for drafting when no one is around!"

The sun now was really hot.  It was in the mid 90’s.  There was a headwind and the ride turned uphill. I kept focusing on my stupid bike computer.  Watching the 10th’s of miles tick away.  I needed some kind of distraction.  There were four or five cyclists around me.  We would pass each other every mile or so.  Working together, we were moving along and the suffering diminished some.  

At mile 80, I had to pee. A good sign.  This meant that I was catching back up on my hydration.  It is a well known practice to pee on the bike, so as not to lose any forward momentum.  I hadn't practiced this, but I thought I would give it a try.  I looked down at my bike and the food bag was right there attached to my cross bar.  I thought about the lack of control all guys have with aim when peeing and decided that would be a bad idea. I didn't want to pee on my food.  

I got off my bike to pee.  

The race officials were very strict about public nudity and using the porta-potties.  There was no one around and there were no facilities around either.  I didn’t want to risk getting disqualified for peeing on the side of the road.  So I let it rip through my tri-shorts.  It ran down my leg and into my shoe.  I was totally grossed out.  I looked back at my bike to grab my water bottle so I can rinse.  It was filled with gatorade.  

Shit….lol!

I got back on my bike.  I had water in the front reservoir that was accessible though a straw.  I filled my mouth with water and proceeded to spit it out all over the affected areas.  As I put my left shoe into the petal, several cc’s of urine expelled from my shoe.  At the next aid station I grabbed a bottle of water and poured it all over the dirty areas.  I was totally grossed out and mad at myself for not just peeing the traditional way!

At nearly every aid station, in addition to getting the necessary nutrition, I took a bottle of ice cold water and completely emptied it over me.  This kept me cool throughout the day and I kept trying to cleanse the idea that any pee was still on me.  

I was happy that I peed.  This meant that I was staying on top of the hydration.  I hadn’t felt the cramping in a while. I continued to keep drinking more than I felt like I should. 

As I got into town, again, the increased density of people along the course cheering us on was such a rush.  I saw my family and friends near the transition area as I came in.  I entered into transition, parked my bike, took off my stinky shoes and went to the changing tent. I was thrilled to be done with the bike, but somewhat scared to get running. 

JFR!

My race plan, so far, was to complete the swim in 1.5 hours and complete the bike portion within 6-6.5 hours.  This would leave me 9 hours to do the run before the 17 hour cut off.  I could walk the entire marathon in 9 hours if I had to.  

I wanted to run, but I didn’t know how my body would respond at this point of the race (8+ hours in). I told myself to “JFR!”  (Just Fucking Run).  I put smile on my face and trotted out of transition.  I saw my family and friends immediately.  I gave my wife a big kiss and a hug.  She told me I looked really strong.  I didn’t know if she was telling the truth or not, but it sure helped.  I had a long way to run ahead of me.




It took me a mile or so to get into a running groove.  The bike to run transition is a bitch.  The legs are tired, the muscle groups are different and running is so jarring to the body.  Also, it was really hot now. 

I was asking myself, will I be able to run this?  Will I hit the wall?   I ran along Alii drive positioning myself to take advantage of the limited shade from the trees along the side.  Another nice bonus was that there were random angels with hoses spraying the runners to help cool us off. 

Still Smiling!


The first section of the run is an out and back.  I saw another teammate (Scott) coming back as I was going out.  He looked strong, but he complained that he was hurting - alternating running and walking. He was a few miles ahead of me.   I told him I would try to catch up and run with him, thinking we could get this done together.  I never caught up to him.  I was worried about when I was going to hit the wall.  

The street was lined with people the entire way for the first 4 miles or so.   So many people would shout out, “Go Brett! You look Awesome!” I wasn’t expecting this.  How do they know my name? I look down to see that my name is on the front of my bib.  I laughed at myself again. 

I kept on smiling.  I am now in my running groove.  Each aid station was approximately one mile apart.  I wanted to run from aid station to aid station to I could break it up into manageable pieces.  I would slow down to a walk as I passed through each oasis -26 one mile runs - I could do this!  

At mile 4.5 I saw my sister in law, Dianne with her camera.  It was another unexpected boost!  There was a turnaround about a half mile up.  I was looking forward to seeing her again soon.   






As I passed her on the return, I felt like I was in the zone.  The plan was working. At mile 6, I ran past my teammate Nadine.  She looked strong as she was entering into the run. 


Definitely my better side



At mile 7, I finally caught back up with my friend Wayne who I last saw on the bike many many hours ago.  He told me that he was hurting too.  His plan was to run/walk the rest of the way.  I thought about joining him but I still felt strong and continued to run on.  I saw his friend and supporter, Jim on the course and he gave me some words of encouragement too. 

At the next aid station. Jim appeared again.  Where the hell did you come from?  I realized he must have been on a bike.  He stopped me, looked me in the eye and said, “You aren’t sweating right now, you need to drink!”  I was in a zone, he is surely mistaken.  He went ahead, procured me a gatorade bottle and made me drink as much as I can, and then carry the bottle. I didn’t realize it in the moment but he was right.  It was 90+ degrees and I was extremely dehydrated.  I drank the entire bottle like it was one of the cups I had been taking up till now.  I picked up a bottle at the next several aid stations to get caught back up. 

This conversation probably saved my race.

At the aid station at mile 8, I ran into another TNT supporter, Terry Jordan.  Her husband Bob was also participating.  They have been our team mentors and motivators.  They lost their daughter to leukemia when she was four years old.  She called out my name (again from my bib). While I hadn’t met her in person yet, I stopped for a moment because she was one of the purple people.  She introduces herself to me.  I was so excited, I gave her a big hug and a smile.  I had seen Bob on the course a few times and we gave each other some encouragement.  We took a selfie together and she sent me on my way- energized and smiling!

18 miles to go.  This was the hardest part of the course.  We are again on the Queen K highway, the sun is burning down and it feels like we are running uphill.  I kept going. At the aid stations, in addition to the gatorade/water,  I had the volunteers dump ice into the back of my shirt for a sustained release cooling effect.  I grabbed water and dumped it over my head to try to keep cool.  I started needing gels in addition to the gatorade to keep moving forward. 

This was the most difficult part of the course for me.  I was alone, it was hot, I had been on the course a long time.  This is where I focused on the mental/emotional state.  I recognized that I had a long way to go.  But how can I break it up into mentally doable sections? 
 
I visualized the letters, the texts, the emails the calls, the conversations, etc. from all the people that supported me.  It again brought me to tears.  Tears of gratitude.  I thought about how far I have come since getting sober.  No way I would be here doing this event (or alive for that matter) if I was still in my drug and alcohol addiction. 

I thought about my family and friends that were both here with me in Hawaii, and afar.  I wondered if my mom would have approved of this endeavor.  I am positive that she would have thought this was a stupid idea.  However, she would be proud at how close my siblings are and how supportive we are of each other - especially since her passing. 
'
I thought about my family, friends, patients and colleagues that have been affected by cancer.  Their struggle is much more than mine at the moment.  I just need to get to the finish line of the race.  For many, death is the finish line. Or the constant challenges of chemo or what is like to live as a survivor?  For every seasonal cold or flu - questioning if the cancer has returned or worsened. It never ends. 

I thought of my friend Doug Dunbar- his mom passed away the day before of Leukemia.  He did this race 2 years prior in the same fundraising role I am in. Life takes strange twists. I know he is watching my progress right now on the app cheering me from Texas.    

This daydream got me through several miles.  As I entered the next aid station,I knew I was going to make it.  I recognize that everyone is with me in spirit - this will carry me home. A smile returned to my face. I now was half way through the run. 

I will admit, I focused a lot on my stats during the bike ride.  I didn’t look at my watch once on the run.  I figured what does it matter? I feel good, still smiling and most importantly, still running. 
'
My next goal was to get into the energy lab by sunset (mile 13).  It is the closest we get to the ocean, and I wanted to experience the sunset there.  It didn’t disappoint!  Maybe it was more spectacular because I am in so much gratitude and I am recognizing its beauty - or maybe it is truly spectacular.  I think it was both.  

As I entered into the energy lab, I hear someone yell my name.  It was my friend Tina. She and I are both members of an ultra-runner’s group on social media.  We had never met face to face.  I forgot that she was going to be out on the course tracking one of her neighbors from Chicago.  I stopped for a bit and she gave me a big hug too. We took a picture together.  We ran together for a bit into the energy lab.   

Soon after, I saw a port-a-potty that was calling out my name.  I was starting to get lower GI cramps and had to rid myself of the contents in my gut.  I didn’t want to be that guy who “shat” himself on the Ironman course.  I already pissed on myself and that was as far as I wanted to go!

As it got dark, I was excited as I expected the temps would drop a bit.  The energy lab is known as the hottest part of the course as no air moves in there.  It stayed true to it’s reputation. It has been hot all day, why would this be any different.  

Just as I was moving deeper into the energy lab, my teammate Brad caught up to me.  He had gotten over his nausea and was back on track.  We ran together for a while and got caught up on different experiences from the day.  He mentioned that our teammate Lori got pulled from the course on the bike ride.  I shed a tear for her.  This course takes no prisoners.  Any of us could have had struggles. I am frankly shocked that it wasn’t me. 

Running with Brad for a bit was another huge energy boost for me. He looked strong and moved on ahead.  I thought about trying to keep pace with him, but I didn’t think I could for much longer and didn’t want to hold him back. 

It was hot and muggy again.  Also it was dark.  So dark that it was little creepy.  They gave us glow sticks to carry so we can be seen.  It didn’t really help us see anything though.  Thank goodness the road was flat and limited opportunities to trip/fall.   The turn around from the energy lab was a huge party sponsored by Clif Bar.  Loud music, lots of volunteers with lots of energy.  It was fun and it was really bright. 

I came out of the energy lab at mile 18 - 8 miles to go.  It was dark.  I passed a bunch of people, a bunch of people passed me.  I remained at my pace.  I felt some rain trickling down on me and thought this is nice. 

And then the sky opened up on us.  It really poured.  So much that the road was flooding in places and my feet were under water as I ran forward.  This lasted for a good 3 miles or so.  It really cooled me off.  I could feel blisters starting to form on my feet - but this was unavoidable.  

Some people dance in the rain, others just get wet.  What would I choose at this moment?  I started grinning.  I felt like a kid splashing in puddles without a care in the world.  I was back into a strong groove.  No stopping me now!

Mile 21 - 5 miles to go, the rain stopped - My pace slows and my energy is fading again.  I realized that I hadn’t ate or drank anything during the rain.  I needed some fuel.  At the next aid, I took an energy gel, and started drinking Red Bull. I am still running in the dark.  I can immediately feel the effect of the Red Bull. Red Bull gives you wings! I am sure it is the caffeine starting to kick in as I regain my energy flow.  

The rain has stopped and now it is dark and damp.  Both feet have hotspots that I am sure are good size blisters.  They aren’t debilitating though. I have less than 4 miles to go. 
As I pass mile 23, the population along the street is becoming more dense.  I can hear the noise of the finish line off in the distance. 

As I pass through the mile 24 aid station, I take another Red Bull.  I feel like puking, but I am able to keep it together. 

2 miles to go.  People on the side of the road are calling me out by name again and shouting encouragement.  I am full on emotional.  I am now torn between finishing and slowing down to savor the last part of the race.  I see Gary, Abbey and Max at mile 25.  They give me big hugs. 

After seeing them, tears fall down my face.  I am going to finish.  Not only finish, but finish strong! 
The last mile of the race - During my training, at the end of every long run, I tried to envision this last mile.  I envisioned a sense of accomplishment.  I tried to think of something clever to do as I cross the finish line.

Somehow it worked out that Gina, Sydney and Riley got VIP passes that let them be at the finish line.  Jeff, Dione and Clyde volunteered to be at the finish line to help the finishers through to the recovery area.  I had the potential to have all of them greet me at the finish. 
 
As I went down the final hill onto Ali’i Drive, the crowd is dense and loud.  The lights of the finish line are in sight.  I see Diane just before the red carpet leading me into the finish shoot. 
  
I remember taking a deep cleansing breath.  I wanted to be completely lucid here and not forget a thing.  I slow down and try to take it all in.  I am not crying.  I feel primal excitement again. The same that I felt when I screamed into the water before the start.   

Taking a final cleansing breath before the finish line. 



I remember someone passing me on the chute.  I am fine with it.  I want to cross the finish line alone. I wave at the cameras prior to crossing the finish line.  This wave was to everyone who supported me in this race that couldn't be with us in person.  It was also meant for my mom to see from above.  I know she would have thought this was a stupid idea - but she would have been proud as only a mom could be of her crazy son. 

As I cross the threshold I raise my hands and scream to the heavens in gratitude.  I see Dione and Riley come out with a sign welcoming me home.  "GOOD JOB DAD!"

I found out later that my daughter Riley (9 y.o) asked the concierge at the front desk for ping pong paddles and balls to pass the time while I was on the course.  The ladies attending the front desk asked Riley what she was doing at the hotel.  She told them about me doing the race.  They thought she was so cute, they offered to make the sign with her to hold up at the finish!

Everyone is there to greet me and the tears start to flow. Syd and Riley put beads over my head. Dione is jumping for joy,  Gina gives me a big hug.  Jeff has a look of excitement about him that I had never seen.  He knows more than anyone what went into my preparation for the event and then to execute it like I did, a huge sense of brotherly pride. Clyde grabs me because he knows that I am about to lose my bearings after stopping abruptly like I did. 

Emotional video filmed by Clyde of everyone catching me at the finish (Click on link)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5rDHQ8zWNc




The group props me up for a picture, then they navigate me to the recovery area where I get my medal and then quickly sit me down. 


Left to Right: Gina, Dione, Brett, Riley, Sydney, Jeff.  (Photo by Clyde Waggoner)








Everyone shows up in this area. I remember eating French fries and them tasting like the best fries I had ever tasted.  I remember ketchup never tasting so good too. 

Then I remember puking my guts out - It never felt so good!

They start pushing me to drink water and gatorade.  The rest of the group comes to greet me.  After about 30 minutes, they walk me up to the hotel room and throw me into the shower.  I sit on the floor of the tub and let the water massage my tired body.  After several minutes I find some soap and clean up.  I paid special attention to my left leg where I peed on myself several hours ago on the bike ride. I laughed at myself because it was such a stupid thing that I did.  Why didn’t I just pee?  What was I so afraid of??

My mind started jumping around as I tried to share some of these stories with everyone.  I am not sure If I made any sense at all as I was so exhausted.  Before the race, my plan was to go back down to the finish line to watch the last finishers come in.  No one really thought that was a good idea now. I needed to sit and rest.  

Everyone left.  Clyde stayed in the room with me.  I slept like shit, I had to pee every hour or so.  I kept pushing the fluids because I knew I needed it.  My internal temperature vacillated between profusely sweating through my clothes/sheets and the chills. 
 
I still couldn’t believe that I did it.  All night I had a smile on my face.  Someone said that I finished under 14 hours.  I looked at my finish times and realized that I executed my race plan/goal perfectly.  I wanted to fo the swim in 1:30, the bike in 6-6:30.  This would give me 9 hours to do the run - which I could walk the marathon if I had to.  I ran the entire run and walked through the aid stations.  I was so proud that I set realistic goals and I stayed disciplined to my plan. 

I family and friends all left me cards with personal notes of love and support to me.  I recognized how fortunate I am to have what I have. 

I start to read the emails, texts and social media posts.  I realized that there are thousands of people rooting me on throughout the day. I am in awe. 

I finally get a few hours of sleep. 

At 3 am, I wake up hungry.  No ravenous~!  I hadn’t eaten a real meal since the pizza party the night before the race.  I started plotting ways to get to the condo (6 miles away) because I am craving cold pizza.  I look up the cost on Uber.  $35.  Hmmm….$70 dollar (round trip) for cold pizza….It was tempting, but no.  I ate a honey waffle to get through the cravings. 

I woke up a few hours later.  Took another shower.  Clyde and I finally got to eat at the buffet in the hotel.  Surprisingly I couldn’t eat too much as my body wouldn’t let me. Gina and Gary arrived at the hotel soon after.  I took apart my bike and packed it away into its travel case.   I went to buy some official finisher’s gear and we checked out of the hotel.  

The party is over.
----------------------------------------------------

The aftermath - I took Sunday off and just rested.  I started running again on Monday and I am quickly back into my routine of running and swimming.  I had a dental convention on Oahu so I stayed in Hawaii for another week. 

I have to take a moment to thank everyone who supported me both with words of support - text, social media, letters and emails. I also want to thank those who donated money towards my goal to eradicate blood cancers. 

Thanks to Gary and Dione Benson.  I have been doing adventures with these two since dental school.  You have seen me at my best and at my worst.  Clyde Waggoner entered into the adventure circle in 2000.  All of us have spent countless hours on trails, roads, bikes and various bodies of water together.  The best crew and training bunch in the world ---And some of the best friends I could ever ask for.  

My brother Jeff and sister in law Dianne.  Jeff helped keep me sane at least once a week, via phone. He was always quick to offer advice on everything from equipment, training to helping me manage my emotional state (which was quite often in freak-out mode).  He has done 2 Ironman races and continues to be one of my biggest supporters. 

My other siblings - Corey, Brandy, Lindsay, Bryan and Brad.  My dad Larry and stepmom Chesi.  I felt your love and support with me every step of the way - in my life before the race, at the race and of course - after!  

My coach Charley Perez - you prepared me perfectly.  It was so much fun getting back into this amazing sport.  I am forever grateful that you were there to guide me back to my highest level. Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Triathlon Club.  I was a founding member of this group.  I was in awe at the growth and the resources offered.  I never had to train alone.

In addition, I have to thank Dr. Steve Schuster for the amazing chiropractic work on my neck, back and hip.  Kellem from Blue Creek for the massages. And Orange Theory Fitness at Stapleton for pushing my core to a new level.  I made it to the start line and finish line strong and sans injuries.


My nutrition was a key factor in both getting to the start line and getting through to the finish.  Special thanks to Honey Stinger, OxyFresh (LifeShotz, Vibe, Motion), and Young Living (Nitro, Ningxia, Panaway, Powergize, Omegagize).

Thanks to Rudy Project North America for my helmet and glasses as well as the video production to help with my fundraisers. and Orascoptic for your donations of Dental loupes, light and chair to keep me ergonomically correct!.

Molly and Anisa, and my friends at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Your faith in me to do both the fundraising and the Ironman never wavered.  Your support was invaluable and your friendship means the world to me.  The mission of LLS gave my mom 8 years of bonus time.  I hope that with the money that we raised, more lives will be saved.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime!

To donate please click on the link: Brett's Fundraiser

Thanks to my teammates Brad Hall, Wayne Warrington, Scott Gildea, Nadine Link, Lori Hetzer and Bob Jordan.  So grateful to march this march with each of you!  Thanks to Ryan Hatcher and Sarah Weston Clark with TNT for making sure all our needs were met before, during and after the race. You rock!
 #TeamKona (left to right) -Me, Wayne, Lori, Bob, Brad, Nadine and Scott

Thanks to my friends, extended family, colleagues and patients who supported me with kind words, donations, training hours and an endless stream of support in person and online; near and far. 

A debt of gratitude that I can never repay is to my wife Gina and my children Abbey, Max, Sydney and Riley.  Thank you for selflessly letting me train my way through the last year.  I hope that you can see that no challenge is insurmountable with discipline, hard work and a clear vision of a preferred future.  Gina continues to teach me about unconditional love and that is what our family has for each other as a result. 


Message to myself on the Ironman "Dream Board" prior to the race
Dream Board

Official Finisher's Certificate

To my higher power who graced me with sobriety on October 21th 1998.  This was the day that I was freely given a solution to overcome my addiction and my life turned to the good.  I became inspired to live each day to the fullest extent.  My adventures over the years personally and professionally have given me an opportunity to have a meaningful purpose in my life - one day at a time.  

"I have been given a quiet place in bright sunshine" (Bill W.)

...And the adventure continues....




Now What?

It is six weeks post Ironman.  I watched the NBC special today.  I am still emotional (read -still crying a lot).  And yes I still wear my ...