Friday, October 4, 2013

It is a thin line between quitting and going to Kona.

It has been months since I have taken a few minutes to sit down and write a post on all things Jonser, and the streams of consciousness that flow through this very limited grape of mine.  Typically, it takes big trips, big races or milestones of some sort that get me inspired to tap out a few words on whatever it is that has me pumped up at the time.

Today my mind is filled with thoughts on the next ten days or so.  As I sit here in the exit row on my airline blasting toward Seattle, I am thinking mostly about meeting my first grandchild, saying goodbye to my navy mentor as he moves on to his next chapter, and ultimately, my seventh trip to Kona to lay it down in the lava in 8 days.

I am not surprised to be a grandfather this early, as I got married when I was 20 to my first girlfriend who brought a beautiful blonde 5 year old into the relationship with her.  The surprising part is that it is my 26 year old son and his fiancĂ© who blessed us with the first grandchild.  My son started dating his fiancĂ© Jackie when they were sophomores in college and are more married than a lot of married couples I know.  Sometimes God’s timing is a little out of synch with the formal wedding plans.  I am more than good with it.  I am ecstatic about my son’s choice for a life mate in young Jackie.  She has quickly become another daughter to me and I love her with all my heart.  This young pumpkin she just delivered 5 weeks ago makes our relationship even more deep, as we are now inexorably linked for life.  It is an understatement to say that I am excited to get off this jet and see this baby Daphne in a few hours. 

A few of my friends that are my age (48) have asked what I think about being a grandfather.  Do I feel old?  Hell no.  I don’t feel old.  Why would I feel old?  I just kicked out 16 x 200’s on the 3:00 (in meters at altitude) on Monday holding 2:46-2:47 for the 200’s.  I can run repeats on a 5:40 pace when I decide to pull my ears back and go big.  I can ride my bike and hold 28 miles an hour when I choose to do so.  I still fly navy airplanes and get upside down and can pull G’s with the best of them.  So no, I don’t feel old.  I do feel older, and that is fine with me.  You want to get older, it beats the heck out of the alternative.  It is getting old that I am working hard to avoid.  My athlete Beatrice has been a wonderful example, showing me that I don’t have to get old.  She is 61 and climbs mountains in the thin air with us at our camps, swims 5k sesssions and is still dialed in with life.  Getting old is a choice, period.  My kids have been sensitive about not making me feel old, which I appreciate.  They recognize that Daphne calling me Grandpa is not really appropriate.  My kids Allison and Ben have always called me Pop, so Daphne will call me Pop Pop.  I dig it.

Tomorrow I drive back up to my old squadron to celebrate the retirement for Rear Admiral Doug Asbjornsen, my mentor and friend.  As I have written before, I enlisted in the navy at the end of what would have been my junior year in High School.  I have been blessed with a long line of mentors along my journey in the navy.  In 2000, I was seriously considering hanging up the navy at 20 years which would have been in 2002.  Doug was my Commanding Officer in 2000 and 2001.  Watching him literally change sailors lives while in command inspired me to start thinking about staying around and seeing if I could one day command a squadron.  He taught me exactly how to do it and was always just a phone call away when I needed advice.  Being there to participate in his retirement ceremony is hugely emotional for me.  Even after he was promoted to admiral and watching him command 8000 folks as the commander of all navy air reserves was so satisfying for me, as I feel like the navy really got it right with him.  They recognized this absolutely wonderful leader and human being, and they gave him the opportunity to impact all of us by being in such an important role.  I am blessed many times over for a lot of things.  Knowing and serving with Rear Admiral Doug Asbjornsen is one of the greater blessings in my life, for which I am hugely thankful.  I wish him fair winds and following seas.

So on Sunday I will get on an Alaska Airlines jet and blast off toward Kona for my fourteenth Ironman and seventh Kona.  If you have read previous posts, than you know about the challenges I have had this year in the form of broken ribs in April and a broken foot 3 weeks prior to Ironman Canada.  For a dude that didn’t even think there would be a race season in 2013, I am over the moon about racing Kona this year. 

Ironman Canada was such a satisfying race for me.  I emailed my coach, Joanna Zeiger, the morning after the race before the Kona roll down took place and shared with her how satisfied I was with my effort and how encouraged I was for next season.  After recovering from the ribs in late spring, I was able to really dial in some consistent and purposeful training.  In late July, I reached out to Joanna to help me with my riding, as I was starting to ride power and I wanted to tap into her expertise.  I have always been strong on the bike, but the way I ride my bike in a race needed her help, as I can be erratic and prone to overriding, especially on the climbs. 

Ironman Canada was proof to myself that I was still capable of racing solid.  I was quietly beginning to have my doubts.  I swam conservatively, but purposefully, and got out of the water in 57 minutes.  While on the first major climb, I downshifted to get in my climbing gear and lodged the chain between my cassettes and spoke.  Because I had so much torque on the pedal when I did it, the chain lodged in their big time.  I calmly got off my bike and tried to free it, but it wasn’t happening.  In races of old, it would be now where I would have a tantrum, but getting older has its benefits.  You just realize it isn’t life or death and there is no reason for histrionics.  I just methodically went to work to try and unseize that chain.  Out of the mist came two angels in a support vehicle.  The lead guy, Graham, who is with bicycletto out of Vancouver said “brother, give us your bike and just relax, we will fix this as fast as we possibly can.  Pee, eat, drink- whatever you need to do to be ready to race here in a few minutes and we will get you all set”.  God bless that dude.  I did all of those things and I was back on my bike with a huge push from him to get me back up to speed so I could just start pedaling and on my way.  I lost 11 minutes on the side of the road, but it could have been so much worse.  I told myself that I was one of the stronger guys in my age group and to just ride my ride and not try to do too much as payment would come due on the run if I did.

I rode a normalized power of 207 watts with my goal being 209 for the entire ride.  I was proud of myself for sticking to my game plan and not doing what I would have done a few years ago, which would have been to rage up that mountain at 400 watts to try to make up what I had lost. 

I got off the bike and my foot now became a real issue.  I couldn’t put all my weight on it and I immediately became quite concerned and doubted I would finish the race.  Anyone who saw me in the first couple of miles would have thought the same thing.  It was bad.  There is a saying that is in vogue right now, “keep calm and carry on”.  It has been my mantra for about 7 years and when things get bad in my life, I focus on this mantra and quietly repeat it back to myself over and over.  As I got out of T2 and started my run, I first ran into my buddy Paul.  He knew something had happened on the bike and I just told him the story.  I could tell he was very concerned about my foot.  I next ran into T who lied and told me I was much further up in my age group than I was.  It was a good lie, because thinking there would be 10 slots for Kona and thinking I was in eighth place or so, I thought alright, I know a lot of these guys had to of over biked and they should just come back to me over the next 26 miles- keep calm and carry on.

Knowing that my foot would be painful, I had put a salt container with some Motrin in my run bag with my gels, salt, etc.  Once I was out on the course and running, I thought I would start a steady dose of self-medicating.  I planned on 2 Motrin every hour or so.  When I went to put a couple in my mouth as I was approaching the mile 2 aid station, I inadvertently emptied the entire container into my mouth.  I said screw it and choked down all 9 Motrin’s.  What could happen…?

So I soldiered on and after a few miles my foot went numb and I just ran.  After the first lap, Teresa told me she had no idea where I was on the course but to keep going hard.  I did just that.  I was running with a navy buddy of mine, Mark Sortino- call sign Beavis.  Beavis and I worked together for 7 miles or so and as we approached mile 18, the pain was a 10 out of 10 in my foot.  I told him I thought I was going to have to pull the pin and let him go.  I started to walk through the aid station and hit everything they had- water, perform, coke, water, perform, coke, gel, ice.  As I got to the end of the aid station it dawned on me that we were in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t going to get a ride back into town, I was going to have to walk.  Well, it hurt just as much to walk as it did to run.  So I told myself, “Jonser, don’t be a pussy.  Run back to town, the pain is going to be the same either way.  At least when you run, it will take less time”.  So away I went.  I noticed as I ran through the 20 mile marker that I was starting to run for real and I just let the pain be there and started to leg it for real to see how fast I could go.  I now noticed that guys in my AG were starting to come back to me in two’s and three’s.  When I hit 24 miles, they were all coming back to me quick and I was able to up the ante and run like I stole something.  At mile 25, Teresa and Paul ran next to me and told me that there was a guy 2 minutes in front of me.  This guy is a many time Kona guy and the bet is a good one that he was in the money for a slot.  I ran as hard as I possibly could with Paul next to me for a few hundred yards quietly and calmly imploring me to go harder.  He has done this a few times before and always with good results.  I love that dude.  He knows it.  I tell him all the time.

I was able to run down 5 or more guys in the last 6k of the run and caught the guy we were talking about with .7 miles to go in the race.  That guy turned out to be the Kona slot.  Thank goodness for deep roll downs and a little race karma.  As I said earlier, I was already good with my race.  I didn’t panic with a mechanical and rode within 2 watts of what Joanna had set as a target for me.  I didn’t give up and I gave everything I had on that day.  It is a very thin line between quitting and going to Kona. 

I will write more this week on why I love my sport.  For me in Whistler, I once again proved to myself when things get tough, I get tougher.  When I was a kid, I quit a bunch of stuff.  As an adult, I do not.  I finish what I start and I give everything I have in the effort to do so.  That is why I do this sport.  I get to challenge myself and push myself to a level that literally scares me sometimes, and then persevere.  I continue to secure a trust in myself that I am able to carry into other areas of my life and experience the same result- finish what I start, and do it with everything I have.  Like one of my assistant coaches, Rob Hilton, likes to say- “give it everything you got, because that is all you have!”


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