Great Floridian 2009; Mike Ricci’s Race Report
I’ve been meaning to put the last 18 months into words for a long time. It’s been physically and emotionally the hardest stretch of my life. That includes 9 ironmans, being deployed for Operation Desert Storm while I was serving with the US Marine Corps from 1987-1993, and being a Redsox fan my entire life (if you are a Redsox fan, you certainly know what I mean!).
In order to get some perspective on the 2009 season, I’ll start at the beginning which was April 2008 and my last ironman in AZ. Three weeks before that race, I was hit by a car on my new bike and suffered a concussion, injuries to both knees, my right shoulder, a decent laceration and sprain to my right ankle and a nice injury to my right Achilles tendon. My bike was totaled and I was pretty happy to not be in a morgue. It’s funny how life gives you perspective even when you don’t think you need it! Our daughter, Hope, was 9 months old and if you’ve trained for ironman with a newborn, you know what I mean when I say the training wasn’t optimal (or maybe it was the lack of sleep). I participated in the 2008 IMAZ – but it just wasn’t my day and my slowest time at an ironman (12:26 – race report: http://bit.ly/3EKjNO). The highlight of the race was crossing the finish line with Hope on my shoulders as she rang the cow bell. She was laughing hysterically at all the people cheering for her and it was a moment I’ll never forget. I have a picture of that moment on the wall in my office and it’s one my most treasured mementos.
After that race I decided I needed to let my body heal from the accident and take a real break for the first time in 20 years of triathlon racing. I can honestly say that I haven’t been out of shape in my entire life. Sure, I’ve taken a week or a month off here or there, but I’ve always been able to walk out the door and run 5 miles or bike 40 miles or swim a mile. Little did I know that this was going to be a much longer break?
My mom, had surgery in June 2008 for an aneurysm near her heart. After the surgery she was out of the hospital and sent home, but she returned soon after as she contracted an infection. Over the course of the next 3 months the Dr’s tried their best to cure the infection, but they weren’t able to. We lost my Mom on September 30th and as much as I had been preparing for the worst, you aren’t ever really ready for it. My Mom was always there to see me race in younger days and even made the trip to see me race at IMLP in 2005. To say I miss her is an understatement.
During this time, I randomly exercised here or there and tried to get out of the funk I was in, but I was pretty much going through the motions. On our way home from the funeral I got an email from the CU Tri Team, asking me if I would interview for their coach position. I jumped at the opportunity knowing how much I have loved working with young triathletes in the past. I think this was the first step in my healing process. I had something else to focus on besides the funk I was in and it was exactly what I needed. I even convinced two of my buddies, Sundy and EC to sign up for GFT in 2009. We had a year to get ready and the price was right at $199. You can’t beat that right? If only I knew…
The day after Thanksgiving our beloved dog of 13 years, Sequoia, died. This just stirred up more emotions in me. Q-dog was my running partner on many an occasion and I did almost all my long runs with her before she started to slow down as she got older. Even as I starting prepping for GFT in the summer of 2009, Q-dog was sorely missed! I can still see her tongue hanging out of her mouth, looking back at me as she led me down the trail. Melanie and I are convinced she was smiling at us when she did this – just this big happy ‘I love this’ smile.
We started 2009 off on a good note as were realized that Melanie was pregnant but as our fate would have it, she had a miscarriage shortly after the 7th week. Words couldn’t describe how sad we were but if there is one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that you have to get up off the mat when you are down. Currently, as I write this we are 15 weeks from our 2nd baby and neither of us is taking anything for granted.
(I know this is starting to sound like a country music song, but this really was our life!)
On a positive note, the CU Tri Team won Regional’s convincingly and even though my worst fear is that we’d finish 10th at Nationals, we somehow managed to finish 3rd with a team made up of first time racers and underclassmen. The team did everything I asked them and I couldn’t have had a better collection of students to coach. By the end of the season, it was no longer a team, but a family.
I had raced at Lake Havasu in March, winning my AG in the Sprint, but I was about 10# over weight still and had a long way to go. In April I raced St. Anthony’s but the swim was cancelled and I went through the motions there as I had one too many Starbucks espresso shots before the race and my gut revolted and I was forced to make a long porta potty stop at mile 4 of the run. At Pelican Fest it was more of the same – some old fat guy trying to relive past glory. I was still out of shape, but at least my attitude was improving. I got 2nd to Dave Sheanin, who really turned it up this year. Somewhere along the bike course I decided I was going to race KS 70.3 and GFT even if I wasn’t in the shape I wanted. I committed to doing those two races and I was going to see it through. I had to remind myself the same thing I have told plenty of athletes over the years, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”
I had a decent race at KS 70.3, going under 5:00 on moderate fitness and realized that the fitness was coming. Next up was Boulder Peak, where my goal was top 10. I crushed the bike and swim, effort wise, but I had such a lousy run that I let up the last mile, and the 10th place guy passed me about 400m from the finish. I vowed to train harder and get my mojo back. I took a trip up to WY to race a sprint and won my AG by a bit and that renewed my confidence a tiny bit. (It seems once you leave Boulder to race, you can actually do ok!)
The 5430 LC was up next – I beat my time at KS by a little bit, but considering it was at altitude and I had been actually training now, I was happy with the result. I was 11th in my AG and not far out of the top 10. A few weeks later I raced the Windsor Olympic and finally felt like I was putting it together with a solid run to get 2nd in my AG (to a former pro) and I knew my training was on track for GFT.
My last tune up was going to be Oktoberfest Sprint. I had been hearing a lot of smack talk from the guys on the CU team about how they were looking to give me a beat down and I was looking forward to doing battle. Things were finally coming together and hopefully I would be able put up a good race. The swim went well and I had the best bike of the year, averaging right at 25mph and got off the run within striking distance of a few of the guys on the team who started 4 minutes in front of me. I had been running about 6:40-6:50 pace all season, so being able to run 6:24 pace at this race was certainly a good sign that I was almost back to my competitive self. Yeah! I finished 5th overall at Oktoberfest and lost out to two CU triathletes – and considering they were two of the most talented yet humble kids on the team, I was good with that. I took my AG at Oktoberfest and it was a good feeling – sprints have always been my best distance so I can tell you where next year’s focus will be!
I found myself on the start line listening to the National Anthem, absolutely the ONE song that pumps me up like no other. I have 3 thoughts when I hear the Anthem: 1. I think about D-Day and our troops in WWII. 2. I think back to when our Marine unit arrived into the US via Bangor, Maine and thousands of people swarming us to pat us on the back and shake our hands after Operation Desert Storm. And 3, a few days later, on May 12, 1991, on Mother’s Day, we arrived at our base and I remember when our Commanding Officer dismissed us, my Mom almost tackled me she was so happy to see me. Those are all great memories for me.
When they sounded the horn at GFT I was amped and ready to go! I missed the first swim pack and ended up at the back of the 2nd pack. Like I’ve done all year, I swam right for some reason, and lost that pack. Ugh. I noticed the chop on the leg coming back and realized the bike would be windy…hmm. It was a solo swim from there and I even swam crooked on lap 2 as well, and stood up at 1:05. That was a bit short of my goal, but in a 10 hour race, who cares, right?