Saturday, August 19, 2017

2017 USA Triathlon National Championship - 10th to 1st. What a ride....DON'T Lose Heart!

As I got a quick drink early in the bike leg, my mouth came off the straw protruding from my aero up-front water bottle and something happened that hasn't happened in 23 years of triathlon racing. The top half of the straw flew out of the bottle! What?? Great! Now, I had no fluids during the bike!  No way to take what I call my Hammer Nutrition "pill cluster" half way through the bike (all legal of course.) Maybe I can choke them down somehow. So, I reach down and get them and promptly drop them all over the road as I cruise along at just under 24 mph. No fluids. No pill cluster. But, let's back up...

Exactly two weeks earlier at the Cornhusker State Games triathlon with a mile to go on the run to the finish, I'd rolled my ankle and ended up in the gravel/dirt. I popped up, adrenaline pumping and ran it in. It quickly swelled and became discolored. So, the next two weeks before Nationals meant a lot of water running, elliptical machine training and physical therapy.
I did get in a whopping three runs of two miles each! Ouch! My final four major run workouts were scratched while trying to let my ankle heal. Dr. Steve Stonebraker threw the kitchen sink at it with every therapy protocol that might help. The morning of Nationals, it was still a bit swollen and discolored and I had no idea how it would respond on the run. I knew I'd have to run a sub 20 minute 5K to have any shot at winning, but now???
Race morning it starts raining. Great. Slick wet roads for the bike, so, slow corners and extra caution were on the agenda. Definitely not fast conditions for cycling. To add to the "fun," my friends were yelling at me as I ran from the lake to my bike, "Linc, you GOTTA GO man. You're 2:20 down...."  My thought? It's over.
My heart sank. These competitors were fast and I'd blown it. No way can I make up that much time in a sprint distance tri. 10th place after the swim. Depressed and filled with despair more than any other time in any race (except maybe during the bike in the Hawaiian Ironman), I found myself in a huge mental battle?  Why? I'd thought about this race every day since last year's Nationals. Every day. Every workout. I'd dedicated this   season to my 86 and 90 year old parents and wanted to win a National Championship right in front of them, dedicating the win to them. Who knows how many more years God will give them. So this was not for me.  This was for them.

I'd looked at the times of my competitors and knew I could be in the hunt for the win even though three of them had won national titles and one of them many world championships. That kind of freaked me out. So, after a year's worth of hard work and focus, it was over. I'd lost 15 lbs since my peak weight in the winter, lost 7% body fat while 100% maintaining lean muscle mass. That wasn't easy to do, but I was dialed in at perfect race weight. Now, over two minutes behind, no fluids, no capsules and a partially sprained ankle, all I can say was that I was overcome with despair.

About ten days before, I'd been reading in 2 Corinthians in the New Testament, chapter four, verse 14, "...we do not lose heart..."  That phrase stuck. No matter what happens in the race, don't lose heart. Sprained ankle? Don't lose heart. No fluids? Don't lose heart. No capsules? Don't lose heart. 2:20 behind after the swim? Don't lose heart. Multiple time world champion ahead? Don't lose heart.
I'd put that particular verse and some others on my bike to remind me of a few things. Calm mind - Isaiah 26:3. Strong body - Romans 8:11. Committed heart - Psalm 86:12. My mind and emotions felt like a ping pong ball getting smacked back and forth from despair to "don't lose heart." All I could do was ride my guts out.
I'd taken my computer off my bike. I didn't want to see numbers because the bike is only 12.4 miles (it was actually 12.8 or 9) so the only pace is maximum. As I came in off the bike my buddies yelled, "You're 1:30 down, in third place. You've got to go NOW!" Now, the run is only 3.1 miles. That meant I'd need to out-run the first guy by 30 (approximately) seconds per mile. Again, I though, "It's over." I'd have to run what, sub 6 minute miles after the bike? No way.
"Don't lose heart..." OK, I got through the second transition from bike to run as fast as possible and kept going. I immediately felt my ankle as I started running out of T2 towards the road. No's only three miles. I kept looking up the road for 60+ guys. The only two groups that had started ahead of us were 20-29 male/female. Easy to decipher the running form of a 20 somethings vs. 60+. Didn't see anyone as the road curved some. 

Just before the one mile mark I saw one of the guys ahead of me. He was a NCAA two-time swim champion back in the day and had killed the swim. HE was the guy I was 2:20 down to out of the water. Passed him. OK, one guy down and one to go. As I ran out towards the 1.5 mile turn around, I was looking for whoever was in the lead heading back toward the finish. I'd time it from when we passed each other til I hit the turn and double that to know how far behind I was. But, there was no one. I turned one.
Apparently, the guy that was winning was so far ahead of the rest of us, I'd missed him on his way back. Man, who IS that guy? Must be the multiple-time world champion. About 150 yards after I'd turned around and started back, I saw him still running OUT to the turn around! What? Then who was in 1st, killing us all???

I was still battling despair, knowing I'd come close - 2nd place. "I'm so sorry mom and dad. I tried so hard to win this for you guys," ran through my mind as I prepared my speech to them. I knew they'd be proud of me no matter what but I'd wanted to win it for them so badly and I wasn't going to.

With a half mile to go, depressed and with my ankle hurting, I tweaked something in my upper hamstring. Slowed down just a bit to be able to make it to the finish line. Saw the finish line and heard everyone cheering as the finishers were crossing the line. Hit the final straight away and my family and friends were going crazy. Yelling, waving, screaming... I figured they were trying to make me feel better about second place. My face said it all. I was pooped and depressed.

15 feet from the finish line I heard the announcer say, "And here is our 60-64 age group National Champion, Lincoln Murdoch!" What? Say what? No, can't be! I was in third off the bike and only passed one guy on the run. I looked in disbelief at the medical folks, the people handing out water and those putting finishing medals on everyone. "Is that real? Seriously, I won??"  "Yes," they told me. I collapsed in weariness and disbelief. I got up and still asked if this had really happened? How? Where did the 1st place guy go??

Well, truth be told, I'd passed the guy in second place very early in the run and missed him. Didn't see him. I'd run the whole 5K with "facts" that weren't really the truth. Oh my. If I'd known that when I passed the swimmer at the one mile mark of the run, I was in the lead, well, I would have run with a whole different attitude and outlook. So many lessons right there.
I walked down the finish line shoot and my family and friends gathered around. I was SO happy. Probably one of the Top Ten Happy Days of my life. Lots of hugs for and from my parents. They're the best ever. The next 20 minutes were kind of blur of congrats, pictures, trying to understand what had happened, etc. 

2x National Champion. This one was so different than the one I'd won in 2012 in Burlington, VT in every way. But that's another story for later. Though I was 2:20 down out of the water, I somehow did not lose heart and had the fastest T1, bike, T2 and run. I'd won by 1:39. My bike was a minute faster than last the rain and the course was a bit longer!  Overjoyed for sure. So thankful to the Lord and to so many people and companies who helped me on this journey.
At the awards ceremony they gave an award for some of the faster run splits and they called the male/female names for the over 60 group. We won new Garmin 935 GPS watches. Wow.
I won a Rudy Project helmet, a backpack, sunglasses and a beautiful award for taking 1st. Again, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I'd beaten some of the fastest guys in my age group in the nation. I say "some" because I know a few that weren't there for one reason or another. Shout out to Jim Aust and Curt Eggers who are amazing triathletes but weren't able to come. They would have been very tough to beat. 

My goal had been to go faster than my one hour, 8 minute something time from last year. I wanted to go 1:07:something. The swim was a bit long as was the bike. Though I officially went 1:09:something, had those distances being accurate, I would have hit my 1:07:something on the button.

BIG thanks to my wife, Jen,  who constantly supports me. She's amazing. Thanks Diane Cahill and Impact Training Center for making me stronger over the last year. Thanks to Dr. Steve Stonebraker at Athlos Chiropractic and Recovery for his PT and recovery treatments. I'm thankful for Hammer Nutrition, Fitletic Hydration, Zensah compression wear, my Valdora bike, my XTERRA skinsuit, my Rudy Project aero helmet, Macks earplugs, Dual Eyewear and to all my family, relatives and friends who have encouraged me and believed I could do this whole last year. To those who were there to cheer me on...thank you for being there! To FCA-Endurance and Team Nebraska Triathlon teammates, thanks for the comraderie and encouragement. I'm blessed to be around people who only know how to encourage! 

2018 ITU World Championships - Gold Coast, Australia. I qualified to represent the US on Team USA September of next year. I've given a tentative yes to the spot I earned, but will think it through before deciding. I've had the huge privilege of this three other times, getting 20th in Germany in 2007, 8th in Australia in '09 and in London getting 6th in 2013. 
If I go it's not to get 10th, 5th or 4th. It's the podium, and if the podium, why not 1st - World Champion? Big statement, easy to type, unbelievably hard to attain for a ton of reasons. I feel silly even typing this. I'm the guy that never played a varsity sport in high school! How's that for one?

My faith is very important to me and my #1 goal is always to race for God's glory, doing the most with the gifts He's given me. I like what World Champion Jamie Whitmore say, "By God's strength. For God's glory." That's my heart always. All of us have been given gifts from Him and we have a responsibility to develop them and use them to bless and encourage others. So, go for it and inspire others along the way!
PS...Yes, I DID down this whole thing on the way home. My taste buds thought we'd died and gone to heaven!!