2014 Ironman Wisconsin
Jason K. Smith
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will
When the road you are trudging seems all up hill
When the funds are low, and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but have to sigh
When care is pressing you down
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt;
And you can never tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems a far.
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit
It's when things go wrong that you mustn’t quit.
This poem is what I was trying to replay in my head over and over during my Ironman competition when times got hard. When the crap hits the fan thirty minutes into a nine plus hour race, your perspective changes a bit and questions start to circle your head. The “why is this happening?” “Why me God, Why don’t you answer me!” For most of us, it’s easy to stay positive when life is good. Believing is easy but when you’ve hit rock bottom, believing is hard and quitting is very enticing. That is the easiest route, right? God sometimes gives us “gut checks” to test us in times of adversity. All I must say is, “You mustn’t quit!”
When I race I do NOT want to just finish. My intention, or maybe I should say my expectation, is to win! Triathlon is a “job” for me. I eat, sleep, breath triathlon. I need to WIN! I HAVE TO WIN! No matter the scale of my competitors I need to think I’m the guy to beat. I hold my head up high when I walk into a room of competitors. I believe therefore I am. For a lot of us, this is how we view life. We want to win at life! We want to believe we can land that new job, buy a new home, make lots of money, get into college, find that special someone, being the best Christian etc…. But what happens when adversity strikes? Where does our mind go when we hit rock bottom or when we want to throw in the towel and say, “forget you world, this sucks!”. What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers? Do we stop believing, tuck tail and run, or do we have the faith that we can get through the hard times no matter what? These were the questions, which stared me in the face during my race.
BANG! The canon fires at 6:50am of the Madison Wisconsin’s 4th annual Ironman. Thirty minutes into my nine plus hour Ironman was when I had my first "gut check". My calves cramped shortly into the swim. “YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!” I screamed in my head. I’ve trained all year up till now and they cramp only thirty minutes into the race?? “Listen, you have TONS of time. Relax”, I thought to myself. Because I couldn’t kick anymore that sent all the blood into my upper body therefore when I got out of the water to run to my bike, my legs had no energy so I started hyper ventilating. “Come on man, your a professional athlete! Cowboy up and run!” I told myself. So I did which put me in a bigger hole. When I finally hopped on my bike it was like I was riding in sand. I had NO power what so ever! “Why is this happening to me??” Eventually I got into a groove and I was on my way. Thirteen miles into a hundred and twelve mile bike ride my water bottle pops off my bike. Not only did this happen once but TWICE. Both times going downhill at forty miles an hour. Unfortunately I turned around both times and at this point most of my competition has passed me putting me in last place. “Take a deep breath and just keep going”, I said to myself. Forty miles go and I’m starting to pass the “citizens” on the second loop of the bike course. At this point my legs, back and arms are cramping and my energy is quickly dwindling. There’s a turn quickly coming up and an older lady in front of me was riding very slowly. As I tried to pass she takes turn wide which sends me off the road down an eight-foot grassy ditch into a cornfield. I screamed “SERIOUSLY! GOD! Will you throw me a frickin’ bone!” That was it, I’m done! But something told me to keep pressing forward. So I swung my bike over my shoulder, hiked up the grassy hill, saddled up and pressed on.
At this point there’s nothing else that could go wrong. I’m at my wits end and I’m so far behind that there’s no catching anyone now. “Once I get off my bike I’m done,” I said to myself. Fortunately, when I got off my bike, my back didn’t hurt anymore; the cramping in my legs seemed to disappear so I decided to run. Immediately I saw my wife and my dad, which made me smile for the first time that day. They knew something was wrong and by my facial expression, I was hating life. Although, if it wasn’t for them, I would have quit the race but I didn’t quit, they pushed me to keep going and so I did.
Nine hours in and ten miles to go, I started walking. Talk about the bottom of the barrel. I wanted to cry out in anger I was so mad! “I’m better than this!” I shouted in my head. “I didn’t train this whole year just to walk”. I tried to run again and my body said no. Again, I kept asking, “WHY ME! This is the worst!” Finally with three miles to go I started jogging, then running, then sprinting to the finish. My teeth were clenched and I didn’t care how bad my legs felt or my lungs wanted to explode; I’m getting to this damn finish line! All of a sudden the pain went away. I ran my last two miles like I was in a 5k race and my body finally started to come around. “FINALLY! It only took 10 hours!” I thought to myself.
Looking back, at one point of the race I saw my wife and my dad, I asked, “what’s the point? I have another Ironman in 3 weeks.” My wife firmly replied, “I don’t care what you think the point is, you’re finishing this race!” That was the deciding point for me. I quickly realized when you think there’s no point in life, your all time low, bottom of the barrel, you can’t quit.
Like the poem says,
“So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit;
It's when things go wrong that you mustn’t quit.”
Editor Note: Jason finished the race in 10:37. This would be a lifetime best for most of us, but it was very kind of him to share what has been a challenging experience for a professional. Long distance triathlons like Ironman often define how we approach life. Something always happens. It's how you deal with it. I appreciate his offering to share this experience. I never had cramps in the swim until my 2nd Ironman, and Jason's right, it's brutal. I found a pro walking walking on the course. I asked why he didn't quit. He said, "because of you man, you guys never quit, I have huge respect for age groupers". When I read Jason's story, it reminded me that after every race, when he could disappear, he is always there to check on the other SBTri racers. Jason will go on to faster days, but we will always remember the day, he never quit. Chapeu Jason!