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Best DAY of my life

July 22, 2010 - John Stack

The normal answers for ‘best day of your life’ usually are 1.)Wedding Day and/or 2.)Date kids were born. These were definitely two of the biggest events of my life. But, Saturday marks the 5 year mark from the greatest DAY of my life. On Aug 24, 2005 I completed the Lake Placid Ironman. This was a DAY! I think I left home at 4:30 AM and got home about 11 PM or so. In between was unbelievable.

                One of the best parts was that my whole family was there. In fact, they are a major reason I finished, or even made it to the starting line. I let everyone know over a year in advance I was competing in the Ironman. Made sure they cleared their calendars. And my family came from North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee as well as across New York. I also made sure everyone I knew was aware of me competing. Why?  To put more pressure on myself. Yes, I had the pressure to finish. If I felt I didn’t want to do a 15 mile run one day, I would think ‘this doesn’t mean much now, but at mile 19 of the marathon, today might be the difference between finishing at a respectable time, or finishing at all.’ But, by telling everyone, there was no backing out. There were probably a half dozen airline flights paid for to see me. All were taking vacation time. When I was running in the snow in 10 degree weather in January around Moody Pond, I would think ‘ I can’t stop. Kathy (sister from Florida) will be here to see me in July. I can’t disappoint her’. Or some other sibling. Or friends who helped me train, like Phil at 5 AM to go for a 7 mile run. Or Jeff surviving some 110 mile bike ride to help me out.  Or Mike who spent endless hours teaching me how to swim 2.4 miles. Also, during the race, to have my family stationed around Lake Placid to cheer me on was incredible. As well as friends who showed up to lend support that I didn’t expect.

                But what is it like to run the Ironman? Freaking tough. But, as Graham Fraser, the prior owner of the Lake Placid Ironman would say ‘completing the Ironman is the easy part’. Easy may be a relative term here. But really, the training is the tough part. To slog it out over 2-3 years preparing. 10 hour training days. Swimming at 5:30 AM at Paul Smiths. Or biking on a 90 degree day where you run out of money, Gatorade, bike pedal breaks, and you get 2 flats and have to call someone (Bob) to save you after 70 miles. And sacrificing a whole lot of your life for this. Cutting back on all fatty foods.(tough for me!) . Finding someone to watch kids for you. Training on weed choked lakes while at camp. Going nearly crazy when 5 miles into a trail run you are attacked by yellow jackets and a swarm of other insects. And the hardest part, that which I am most proud of, is just the determination to be prepared. Truly, most people of even moderate ability could finish the Ironman. It just takes a long long time of preparation and determination. The old saying‘a walk of 1000 miles starts with one step’.

                In fact, the possibility of mortals to finish the Ironman is what got me to believe I could finish. I volunteered back in 2000 and 2001. I was out on Sentinel road, and I saw guys who didn’t look like they were any better athletes than myself. Some were even walking late in the day, and I knew they had at least 10 miles to go. I saw people who I raced against competitively in the Black Fly duathlons. I figured ‘What the Heck? I can do this’. Until then, I figured you needed to be some top marathon runner Adonis to finish this. At the time, I hadn’t even completed a run longer than 10 miles in my life. And it had been 20 years since I even did 50 miles on my bike. And, I’d have been lucky to swim 100 yards without stopping. What was I thinking?

I made a plan. The fall of 2002 I ran a half marathon(Lake Placid). In the fall of 2003 I ran my first marathon (Columbus). In fall 2004 I completed a half-ironman  (Ottawa). During this time, I competed in bunch of mini-tris in Lake Placid, as well as the Piseco Lake triathlon, bike time trials, duathlons ,mountain biking races  and as many other races as possible. Most of the run-up was solo. Little professional training (except Mike Trump teaching to swim better).  When the day came, I was ready.

                The swim was easy, although I was nearly last out of the water (2150 of 2200!!). But, I passed 400 people on the bike (saying good morning or talking to almost everyone!). I also finished in the top half of the run. Although I have run my whole life, the marathon was tortuous. I hit a wall at mile 17 and walked about 2 miles (it was way back on the River road, so most spectators didn’t see me walk!). I couldn’t eat or drink a thing. I could only get a little water down. I was feeling awful. Then, in a moment out of Field of Dreams, I made a blatant appeal to the heavens. My dad had died 4 years earlier, and I had his work ID strapped to my sneaker. I made an almost mocking plea that if he was watching me, to help me out. I started jogging a little, helped by a guy who started jogging when I caught him. I kept getting faster and fresher, and ran in the last 6 miles. At the time, I was so sick, dehydrated and delirious, I forgot about my plea for weeks. But, I’m not sure my finish was not helped by other causes.

                I started the race at 172 and 10% body fat (that was oh, 40 lbs and 20% fat ago). I finished at 162. After having not lifted my feet more than 3 inches off the ground in hours, I leaped across the finish line with my kids in tow.

                So, please check out the race and cheer these people on. They have spent years training. They have sacrificed. Their families have sacrificed. Come over at 9 or 10 PM and cheer in the people who have been out there the longest. As a spectator, it’s the best part. And as an athlete, it is still incredibly appreciated.




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