2:34, 13:58, and DNF

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.

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Fit to Finish: A Team MPI Report from Team RWB Austin Tri Camp

Duane Seay Crossing the Finish Line

Team MPI Athlete Duane Seay Crossing His Much Delayed First Triathlon Finish Line       

Fit to finish. It is an interesting phrase in the context of the recently concluded RWB tri camp in Austin. As I sit here writing these words I am stranded at the airport and not really sure I will get out of Austin and back home to my wife and family in Houston today. I am on deck (standby) for the 12:20 flight back home and “booked” onto the 4:30 flight. That being said (or in this case, written), I am not convinced that the check will clear today given the ominous skies I can see on the horizon. Airlines do the best they can but they do have a tendency to write checks before the money is in the bank:) But I digress.

Fit to finish. The point of this ode to the camp really has more than one meaning. For some of the campers it was an opportunity to get in touch with a physical reality that they were fit to finish the closing triathlon of the camp. For others who came, I sensed that some had found new purpose and perhaps reclaimed a new future, and that they leave Austin today with the conviction that they are fit to finish that greater race called life. For me, as one of the coaches whose privilege it was to serve at the camp, fit to finish has an additional meaning. Fit to finish is the journey I took with the athletes at the camp.

On the opening afternoon of the camp as attendees began arriving at the host hotel, the coaches assisted the wonderful team of Stephanie from Trek Bikes and David Barrientos, owner of Tsunami Cycles in Austin, in fitting the athletes to bikes. In most cases the fit was the coaches’ first interface with most of the athletes. Throughout the following days of the camp, as we came to know each athlete and not just hear their stories but also come to be a part of their stories, the bonds of athlete to coach, veteran to veteran, veteran RWBer to civilian RWBer, and the myriad of other binding connections were made and enriched by our common experiences in life and the camp itself.

As I stood in the finish chute on race day as the first athletes began to conclude the race that was the consummation of the triathlon component of their camp weekend, I realized that I had the honor to know each athlete…from fit to finish. Fit to finish for me is the description of my coaching journey with the athletes. As I hung the finisher medal on the athletes that had been on the camp team Brandon and I coached, I was struck with the recognition of what a privilege it was to have been with them from fit to finish. My enduring hope for each person who participated in this year’s camp is that they will go on to reach new heights of achievement. And maybe along the way from time to time remember the coaches who were with them from fit to finish. I know we will remember the athletes. So, campers, in everything you do in the days ahead, wear the eagle in your heart as well as on your shirt and stay fit and finish strong!

USMES TRACK CYCLING CAMP… OR CAMP INSPIRE?

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USMES CAMPERS AT THE OTC VELODROME – Photo by Jim Gallahan

Earlier this month I had the unique opportunity to attend a track cycling camp in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center sponsored by U.S. Military Endurance Sports. I had hoped to pen a bit about my experience there much sooner than this but it has taken this amount of time to truly begin to synthesize how that experience impacted me: as an athlete, a coach, and as a veteran.

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Photo by Nathan Gallahan

Words like inspiring are used so often these days that sometimes it seems that we need to manufacture new ones to adequately express our experiences. Yet, in some cases, the old words still express things best. Inspiring is exactly what my time at the OTC was for me. Continue reading

From There To Here: My Triathlon … And More Story

CHANGE DOESN’T HAPPEN UNTIL YOU ASK HARD, UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS OF YOURSELF.” —Dan Waldschmidt

My story in triathlon has an interesting beginning. I fell in love with triathlon fairly early in the history of triathlon. I was a volunteer at one of the Bud Light series tris back in the late 80’s and was captivated by what I saw. I started training to do the triathlon the next year but fell ill shortly before the race. I was misdiagnosed with a disease that it turned out I didn’t have. Instead I simply had asthma and an attack had come on due to a change in the weather exacerbated by some allergies. I ended up not only putting triathlon on hold but fitness in general for the next 20 years. But throughout all that time I never lost my obsession with triathlon. Once my asthma was diagnosed and I began to turn the corner on being constantly ill. I started running again on December 31, 2007 with the intention of running a 1/2 marathon in the Spring. I weighed 250 + pounds with a 42 inch waist and I ran and walked 14 minutes. By the following June I made a promise to myself that I would complete and IRONMAN by the time I reached 55. Well I am 53 and, to date, I have completed 3 IRONMAN distance races, multiple, 5 IRONMAN 70.3 races, multiple marathons, 1/2 marathons, and Olympic and Sprint triathlons. Through all those years I never lost my dream, even when it seemed out of reach, and now as a coach (doing what I not only love but believe I am meant to do) I want to help others realize their dreams both in the sport of triathlon and life!

People ask me how I did it. How did I go from the 250 plus weight and a 42 inch waist to 165 and a 30 inch waist? How did I go from thinking I would be heavy forever to getting back the athletic (though older) body I had always had prior to the misdiagnosis?

The answer is that I began to do what Dan Waldschmidt says in the quote above: I began asking myself hard uncomfortable questions. And I did not like the answers. So I made a decision to change. I have used that same process to make other changes in my life in the past few years and the future has never been as bright for me. That doesn’t mean that change is easy. It isn’t. But it is the only way to get from where you are to where you want to be. Change born out of asking myself the hard questions is what got me from there to here. It is hard but it is worth it to be here and not there!