Athlete of the Month, August 2015 – Jake Lewis
Athlete of the Month
I want you to jump right in and read Jake’s story – it’s good – it’s really good! His coach (Dave) nominated him for all the reasons you’ll read about in his story below. Coach Dave recognized that Jake accomplished his goals while deftly balancing his life — he is a husband, a father of two small children, and a rocket-scientist (he literally sends stuff into space and just above is a picture of him at work). And as his coach, Dave could not be more excited to nominate Jake Lewis for D3 Athlete of the Month!
Know this, Ironman finishes don’t come easy, they are often hard earned, they are filled with twists and turns as well as unexpected compromises … and Jake knows this well.
Does he get to an Ironman finish line? Read his story!
Introducing our August 2015 Athlete of the Month – Jake Lewis!
For all of us, Ironman is a journey, not a finish line. While I knew that when I started, I was surprised by just how much I had learned and changed by the time they handed me my finisher’s medal at Ironman Boulder 2015.
My journey started in 2013 when I decided to race the inaugural 2014 Ironman Boulder. I had completed Ironman Wisconsin in 2012, my first, and was anxious to get back to it and put out a big PR. Wisconsin had been a great first race for me, but I had come apart in the second half of the marathon and I was sure I could do better. My wife and I talked about the sacrifices that would be required so that I could prioritize my training and agreed that we could handle that, our careers, and two small children. Go big or go home! We managed, it wasn’t easy, but I had a big goal and my whole family understood and wanted to see me succeed.
Race day came in August 2014, and all went according to plan; swim split, bike split, all exactly on schedule. I hit the run feeling strong and confident, running is what I do best. Then it all started to come apart. By mile 13 the heat and dehydration were taking their toll, my stomach was rebelling against food and even liquid. I was still on pace, but feeling lousy, this was no time to let up, I had worked way too hard for this big PR. I pushed myself for five and a half more miles before I collapsed. My trip to the finish line was taken in an ambulance. Sitting in the med tent, listening to Mike Reilly call out “You are an IRONMAN” the realization hit me like a ton of bricks. DNF. The possibility had never even crossed my mind, that time goal had been all encompassing, it never even occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to finish. Sitting at home that night I realized that I could not finish my season with a DNF. I spent all of 24 hours considering what I’d do and decided to sign up for Tahoe in two months and Boulder again the following year.
I took a bit of recovery time, then got in a few solid weeks of training before Tahoe. I tried to keep my expectations reasonable, it was a tough bike course and I really didn’t know how I’d do on it. I was going to play it safe, all I really wanted was that finish line. I flew out with a friend who was also racing and as we got into town there was smoke in the air from a forest fire in the area. The race briefing was heavily clouded in smoke, but the forecast was that the wind would shift and the smoke would blow out. We got up race morning and it was smoky near the hotel, but once we got to the starting line all was clear. We suited up and headed for the starting line. Just as the gun was about to go off, the announcer came on the PA, race cancelled.
I was really disappointed, but I felt terrible for the first timers, and everyone who had trained so hard for THIS race. After all, it was just my fall back race, it wasn’t so bad for me. That was a lie. I was crushed. When you devote so much of your life to this sport, it becomes a big part of your identity and your self-confidence. It was a very dark winter for me.
Finally, in the spring of 2015 I started training again. The winter had changed me. I was going to do this Ironman, but forget PRs, I needed more balance in my life. Early in the winter I fell while running on some ice (I was on a family vacation skiing, something that I normally wouldn’t risk) and sprained my wrist, I was unable to swim for a couple of months. As my wrist started to heal up I was trying to cram in a tempo run before picking my son up from his swimming lesson. I was worried about finishing my loop in time and even though my calves were tight I had to keep pushing. Twang, I pulled my calf muscle, but had to keep running through to get back. After 6 weeks of recovery I finally felt healed enough to go for some tentative runs, I pulled it again immediately.
Boulder 70.3 rolled around and I had barely done any running. I expected a lousy race and was trying to manage my expectations. I was determined that I was just going to have fun. I got a flat 5 miles into the bike ride and changed that. Twenty miles later I dropped my chain and it caught in my spokes and ripped out of my derailleur. I didn’t even know that was possible. Miraculously I was able to fix that and got back on my bike. It didn’t matter, I wasn’t worried about my time and I didn’t stress over it. I was going to have a slow race and just have fun. As I got to the run I took it easy, worried about my calf, I’d barely run on it all year. I goofed off and made motorcycle sounds as I ran (slowly) up hills, I said hi to everyone I knew, I smiled as much as I could. As I ran to the finish I looked at my time, 10 minutes slower than my PR. I’d spent over 12 minutes fixing mechanicals. Hey, that was basically a PR finish! I’d had my slowest ever run time, but otherwise it had been pretty good. The prior year I was upset when I missed my goal time by 4 seconds, this year I was thrilled with my performance, it’s all about attitude. Two weeks later I pulled my calf again.
By the time I toed the line at Ironman Boulder I had managed only a single quality long run all year. I was pretty sure that I’d be able to finish the marathon, but I didn’t think I would manage a good time. The swim was “wetsuit optional” which made the start chaotic, but I managed through it. I started the bike, knowing that if anything was going to really go well, that would be it. I had lots of friends out on the bike course and I looked for each of them, sat up, waved and yelled ‘hi’ and took the time to appreciate how lucky I was to have so much support. I felt good on the bike, kept my power in zone, maybe a bit conservative, and my speed was turning out well. I finished the bike almost 25 minutes faster than I expected.
As I exited T2, I started doing the math. I could run an “easy” marathon and hit my goal time from last year. I hadn’t been running much, but running is what I do really well, I was sure I could do that. I was so surprised, so relieved, I started getting choked up. I settled into the run, conservative but moving along. Ironman is never easy. By mile 20 it was starting to get harder, my stomach was not very happy with me and I didn’t want to eat anything, or really drink much. I continued to push in a little bit of nutrition, but at that point I knew that I could make it. As I made the final turn toward the finish line, the only part of the looping course that I’d never run, I was overwhelmed with emotion. My family was standing near the finish, I stopped, I hugged my wife and kids, and then I headed down the chute.
As I crossed the finish line I raised my arms in triumph! I had tried my best, but wasn’t expecting a stellar performance, I just wanted to get to the finish line and feel good about it. I’d strived for more balance in my life, tried to enjoy the journey. I’d been a little sillier, spent more time playing with my kids, relaxing with my wife. I hadn’t focused quite so much on my training, I’d gotten injured in part because I was allowing other things to be important in my life that I hadn’t the year before.
In the end, I finished 15 minutes faster than my goal the previous year. I never would have thought that was possible. I learned that balance is important, attitude is everything and to enjoy the journey.