By Coach Mark Turner
My race day at IMTX started out pretty much like my three previous IM Texas races. The short walk from transition chatting with an athlete I had never met before as we both shared our stories. That last pitstop and a helping hand hand from a friendly volunteer to zip up my swim skin. The the sound of the pro starts, the national anthem as the sun slowly rose, and finally the age group start. I was some three hundred or so meters into the swim when I had the most severe collision I have ever experienced in open water. Another swimmer came down hard on the back left side of my neck and suddenly I was seeing stars. Pushed under the water I struggled to regain my composure. As I tread water to give myself time for my head to clear I seriously wondered if I could finish the swim. After the stars cleared I began to try and swim forward for most of the swim out to the first turn buoy I could only keep my head under water for a few seconds without getting a bit dizzy feeling. As I made the second turn buoy things began to settle out a bit but now I was feeling some fairly serious leg cramping which was impacting my kick. The kick that my coach and I had spent the last 3 months really working to develop. As I made the turn up the channel I began to realize that the way I was favoring my neck during sighting had caused me to swim mostly from the deltoid on my left side and I started experiencing some pretty significant fatigue. But I felt like if I pushed as hard as I could up the channel I had a chance to make the swim cutoff and get out on the bike and run and at least execute those two legs of the race.
As I came out of the water at the swim finish I had no idea if I had made the cutoff. So off I went on the ride. Once on the bike I was plagued with doubt about having made the swim cutoff and a huge part of me wanted to just say, “Well, today isn’t your day,” and stop racing. The winds were killer on the toll road section. I felt a little… no… a lot sorry for myself. Why keep riding if I don’t know for sure? But here is the thing. I am 55 years old and I would love to say that in all my years I have never quit anything. I would love to say that but it wouldn’t be the truth. In fact, most of the regrets that haunt me from time to time are centered around the things I gave up on. I am on the back half of the time I have left on planet earth. Trying and moving forward in every area of my life are really all I have left. Since I didn’t know for sure I simply pushed on.
When I came off the bike I asked a young volunteer if he could look on his smart phone to see if I had made the cutoff but the cell service was such that we couldn’t get the results page to load on his phone. So after that extra long T2 I went out on the run. On the run I felt the strongest I have ever felt off the bike at an Ironman. I ran to every aid station and walked each one and ended up with a personal best sub 5 marathon off the bike. I had a total time of sub 14 hours. A personal best by a lot. On the run I had asked a couple of different friends if they knew whether or not I had made the cutoff. I now know that at some point early in the race I had been posted as DNF for failing to make the swim cut off. I have great friends so they lied to me and told me they didn’t know and to keep going. I told one of my friends, who is a fellow coach, when I saw him on the first loop of the run that I wasn’t sure if I had made the cutoff. He said, “Hey, base miles. Keep going.” And so I ran. When I crossed the finish line and the announcer called out Mark Turner, 5-time Ironman finisher I had my doubts.
As my wife and I walked toward the corral to pickup my morning clothes bag she told me that it had been posted that I was DNF. 2 minutes and 34 seconds over the cutoff. I was disappointed but not totally surprised. Mostly I was tired and, at that point, getting very cold. That evening and into the next day I had many text message communications with friends, fellow athletes, and fellow coaches asking me what had happened. I explained to them what had occurred. As usual you also have the many well intended words of congratulations for finishing on social media platforms. For most of those public social media words I simply said thank you out of respect and appreciation for their intent. But to be honest each time it stung just a little.
On Monday I intended to post this race report but while at the grocery store my wife texted me that the results on the race website showed me having finished and not DNF. I was completely shocked. I texted back asking was there a mistake in the swim time and did the results show a different time? She replied, no. And I replied it is probably a mistake then. I texted a friend on the timing team and asked if there was something going on with the timing and was told no. I was officially DNF and the results would be updated on the website.
I waited until today, Thursday, to post this because I knew there was already a great deal of confusion surrounding the posted results for many, and I wanted to wait until the results were actually updated before posting this, so as not to add to the confusion. Today they were updated.
As a coach it is tough to have an athlete fail on race day. As a coach, it is even tougher to be the athlete who fails on race day. As a coach, I have to help my athletes put a bad performance in perspective and look for the lessons to be learned and how to use those experiences to move forward and become a better athlete. My coach will help me do that as we prepare for me to race Ironman Florida in November where I had my worst Ironman performance in 2014.
At the opening banquet for IMTX, Dave Scott spoke about his greatest race being the race where he came in 5th. He had had a bad swim and his bike was just good enough to get him within reach of the leaders but he simply ran out of time. My time ran out at IMTX somewhere in the channel. But Dave Scott pointed out that the only way to get better or to achieve anything in life or in triathlon is to keep pushing forward. At the closing awards ceremony, the Women’s Champion, Jodie Robertson talked about finding the strength for victory out of past failures.
A number of well wishing friends have tried to convince me that IMTX wasn’t a failure for me because I kept going. I appreciate their love and support. But they are wrong. On Saturday, April 22nd 2017, I failed. I also had my greatest race. I know that going forward toward Florida I can build on both of those realities.