Riding shotgun with the Iron Cowboy: New York

NEW York RunAs we made the trek from Vermont to New York state, I was overcome with exhaustion. The sleep deprivation was catching up, and there was no refuge in sight. All I could think about was a shower, a soft bed, and cold sheets. There was no chance of that happening though. It was past midnight, and we had four hours to drive to the starting line of the HITS Triathlon in Kingston NY. Check-in and packet pickup was 5:00 am. We stopped at a gas station in some unknown town so that a couple of the crew could pick up some “race day nutrition”. Technically it already was “race day” so they could have just called it “food”. I hadn’t eaten dinner yet and I figured it would be wise to get something into my system if I was going to race a Half Ironman distance triathlon in just a few hours.  I walked into the little convenient store and was immediately hit with the overwhelming urge to close my eyes and fall asleep. “Just for a second” I thought, as I sat down on the floor and quickly melted into a puddle next to a rack of candy bars. In a matter of seconds I drifted into that state of liminality between consciousness and sleep, where the mind is free to wander. As I lay on the hard floor, spooning a Charleston Chew, my thoughts got snagged on a single troubling thought – “I wonder if the blue green algae have already started to turn my bowels into mush? How much longer do I have to live? I should probably call my wife and little girls before I die. I wonder what they’ll do with my bikes?” I was quickly brought back into consciousness as Jordan nudged me with his foot. I looked up and my eyes came into focus on his “race day nutrition” – a large waffle cone with two hard scoops of ice cream. “So much for childhood obesity.” I thought.  SLEEPING

In the delirium, I forgot to eat.  “I’ll figure it out tomorrow morning,” I thought, failing to realize that it was already “tomorrow morning”.  A few more hours of driving and we landed at a quaint wooden home in the country just outside of Kingston NY. I stumbled up the steep stairs and fell into a hard, short bed. As I was about to drift away I remembered I still hadn’t eaten anything. Lying with my eyes closed I reached and fumbled though my bag. I laid a bag of peppered beef jerky on my chest and put a piece in my mouth.  What seemed like the very next instant I was shaken awake by the sound of our wakeup call on Parkin’s alarm . I slowly sat up, drool dripping down the side of my face and gagged on the unchewed piece of jerky still in my mouth. “Go time” Parkins said. “Time to race”.

James had ridden in the motor home so we all convened at the race site. We fumbled around as we prepared our transition bags and gear and rushed to get everything into place before the start. We dropped off our stuff at T2 and then the crew, minus James and the Wingmen, made the short drive to the swim start and the location of T1. I got everything set up in my transition area and then waited for James and the bikes to arrive. They pulled into the parking lot at 6:55 am, just five minutes before the race was to commence. We quickly grabbed our bikes and raced them to their racks. I stood outside the port-o-potty and awkwardly stripped off the top of my wet suit, took off the cycling jersey I was wearing on top, and pulled down the straps to my cycling bibs below. With the wetsuit around my ankles, I hobbled like a penguin to the door of the port-o-potty – hoping for the chance to make a pseudo morning pit stop before the gun went off. At that moment I heard a commotion behind me and saw our wave of swimmers thrash through the water. I assumed for a moment that it was a warm up sprint but then quickly realized that the race had actually begun. “Dang!” I thought, as I pulled up my bibs, zipped on my jersey and struggled back into my wetsuit. I ran over to James- who had calmly walked to the edge of the water- and Parkins and put in a tag team effort to get James’ wetsuit zipped up in the back, his bulging traps and extra wide lats making it seemingly impossible. It took one knee on his back and one of us pulling on each side before we successfully carried off the feat. We turned and quickly waded through the water before it was deep enough to swim, our eyes on the thrashing mass of swimmers, now some 5 minutes ahead.

I put my head into race mode, channeled my inner Jenny Thompson and flailed my skinny arms in the direction of the swimmers.  The water was a rusty brown color and visibility was to about my elbow, although it didn’t taste bad. It definitely didn’t taste like frog urine, or blue-green algae. (I’m pretty certain at this point that those have the same flavor profile.) If anything it just helped to wash the taste of peppered beef jerky from my mouth – a difficult task as it had marinated on my tongue for a solid 1 hour of sleep.  I figured it would be a struggle to catch the group, as I am not the greatest of swimmers, and I would have no feet to latch onto.

To my surprise, I eventually caught most of the pack before transitioning onto the bike. Hunger finally hit and I stuffed 8 granola bars into my mouth as fast as I could chew. My masseter and temporal muscles on the side of my face and head ached as if I had just eaten the whole bag of jerky that had slept on my chest last night. It was a poor replacement for the last two meals, but it was what I had on hand. I looked at the road in front of me, focused on cadence, and rode hard – aided by the numbing effects that sleep deprivation seemed to have on my sensory system. The hilly course carved through dense forest and I was able to charge through it without any major issues, except for a missed turn that added about 3 minutes during the out and back correction. “Which way do I go? I asked the police officer who was directing traffic. “I don’t know!” he responded, “They didn’t tell me”. When I did finally loop back around, I approached the sign that was obstructed from view by the same busy officer,  standing in front of it directing traffic. It said to turn left.

I transitioned off of the bike and onto the run, zipping off the cycling top, and pulling on a cotton Iron Cowboy t-shirt. I kept on the cycling bibs because I didn’t have a pair of triathlon shorts, and just tucked the shoulder straps down around my waist. As I ran out of the transition area, the padded bum of the cycling shorts brought back a flood of memories from a distant past. It was a long time ago – a time when I nursed from breasts and pooped my pants. “Gross,” I thought as I shook the image from my head. I did my best to ignore the saturated chamouis as the padding tried in vain to wedgify my backside. I looked forward and focused my attention on cadence and a smooth, fast, rhythm – counting my steps and shooting for 90 per minute.  Over the next 13.1 miles I ran hard and did my best to stay focused – a task that became increasingly difficult as I passed wingmen Casey and Aaron, both completing the entire distance in black Iron Cowboy speedos. The course looped several times which gave everybody ample opportunity to lay their eyes on the enticing spectacle. From the front, the race numbers completely blocked out any black fabric, giving the illusion that the two were adorned in nothing but small paper loin cloths with printed numbers. On the final lap I approached the two from behind and asked, “How’d you fit all that sexy into such tiny packages?” There was no verbal response, just an eruption of scoffs, laughter, and simultaneous slaps on both sides of my bum cheeks – as if both wingmen shared a single brain.

Casey and AAron

I pushed down a long stretch of downhill then in a brief moment of distraction (I was likely trying to un-see what I had just witnessed), I stepped hard into a hole in the road that I hadn’t seen. I instantly felt a searing pain shoot though my left lower extremity.  To an onlooker it would have appeared as though I had twisted my ankle, but it was actually the lateral side of my left foot – the 4th and 5th rays , right at the metatarsals. They somehow managed to buckle like a hot dog bun under the rest of my foot. I stumbled for a couple of steps then tested it out with full weight. It hurt but seemed to be ok-ish.  I kept pushing down the road and by the end of the 13.1, I had reeled in everyone in front of me except for the final two, the second place male finishing only a second ahead of me. “Grrr…If only I had 20 more feet.” I thought, but then I quickly remembered the hour of sleep, the 5 minute swim delay, the scenic bike detour, the “race day nutrition”, and the pre-race jerky meal, and decided, “I’ll take it.”

We were all there as James finished the bike course and transitioned out onto the Marathon.NEW YORK BIKE TRANSITION

He was accompanied by a small group of runners and was motivated onward by the hundreds of spectators who cheered him on, gushing with star-struck awe and vocal declarations of how he had inspired them. NEW YORK MARATHONThe size of the running escort amplified with the Iron Cowboy 5k, as did the excitement generated by the  Wingmen. Aaron and Casey strutted onto the scene once again sporting their black Iron Cowboy speedos, but this time, each donned a pair of assless leather chaps as well.CHAPS 1

They had been packing them since Connecticut, just waiting for the right opportunity. With smiles, and cheers, and buns blazing, they lead the charge during the 5k run, waddling awkwardly by the end as the skin on their inner thighs was chaffed raw by the leather. Of course it was worth it, but they will likely never do it again. Unless…maybe they could be persuaded? – on Facebook maybe??…in Utah?? I’ll leave that up to all of you.


At the end of the night, James summed up his day 36 experience with the following:

“What a fun day at the HITS Triathlon Series in Kingston NY. Did over 4300 feet of climbing on the bike then knocked out 14 miles before the 5k. Early finish for me tonight. I’m pretty happy with how the day ended. I just can’t believe I’m through 36 of these in as many days…just crazy.”

HITS finish

The day was a success. Not because of our results, but because we all went out and did everything we could to fight hard and focus on what we could control. The circumstances were far from ideal. None of us had slept. Everyone was exhausted. Nutrition was off. Planning was off. The bikes didn’t even show up to T1 until moments before the start. One of us (this guy) nearly died, trying to hop like an arctic bird towards the port-o-potty with a wet suit bound around his feet – all in a failed attempt to relieve himself before the race start. There was a missed turn on the bike. The run was completed in essentially a diaper. I’m pretty sure I fractured a bone in my foot during the run course (true story). I got (had) to see all of Casey and Aaron, in all of their glorious splendor. Casey has been having serious “tummy troubles” since Connecticut and yet he rallied to finish the race anyway. James was on day 36, and yet he pushed through a terribly hard course with a smile on his face and a calm urgency that inspired everyone who saw him.

NEW York Run

The point is that all of the race preparation doesn’t have to be successful in order to have a successful day. It very rarely will, and even if it is, it doesn’t guarantee that things will work out the way you hoped. The key is just to roll with it. Focus on what you can personally control, and hope for the best. Stay calm, stay positive, and for heaven sakes – enjoy yourselves! Casey has not slept in over a month. The possibility of sharting his pants has been an hourly concern for almost a week. He and Aaron – his trusty partner in crime – work tirelessly to make sure that James has everything he needs. When we arrived in Kingston, they had every opportunity to simply rest, as it was the only official event of the entire 50 days. Instead they raced a half Ironman distance triathlon. Then, they went out and lead the charge for another 5k, rallying troops, cheering on the masses, brightening (or frightening) people’s days, and chaffing the hell out of their legs – all for love, and love of life. AND…to my knowledge, Casey didn’t shart a single time – although there were a few close calls.

So push yourself. Train hard. Race with all the guts you can muster. But, enjoy it! Love the process. Give yourself permission to be happy with your performance. That doesn’t mean you have to run around in a speedo and a pair of chaps, (please don’t) but if that’s what it takes, go for it. Find friends to help push you along. Work off of each other’s energy.  Focus your goals and determine your successes based on things that you yourself have control over. When I say that I mean things like, “whether you personally fought and pushed yourself”, not on things like, “how fast the other guy in your age group clocked the bike split”. Somebody else’s performance should never be the measure you employ to determine your own success or failure.  Remember that. Take ownership of your race. It belongs to you, and no one else. That is the only scenario in which you are the master of the outcome, rather than being a slave to someone else. Look forward with a grateful, relaxed, positive attitude. I promise you it isn’t going to negatively affect your performance. You will only see improvements, and the people in your life who sacrifice so much so that you can follow your dreams, will like you a whole lot more.


4 thoughts on “Riding shotgun with the Iron Cowboy: New York”

  1. I’m Ambassador for Iowa, Day 43. Will see you next Saturday the 18th. Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy reading your updates. This one in particular–laughed out loud. Hope your foot isn’t really broken. Carrie

  2. Good morning,I’m Catherine,and I live in France close to Paris.
    I’ve known James through Rich Roll’s pod cast and I’m following his amazing journey since then with my kids (I’m a mother of four…)
    What he’s trying and is about to achieve is simply unbelievable!
    I just wanted to say that some light from our hearts fly to him ,to his amazing family and crew everyday,and that even if I couldn’t even achieve ten percent of what he’s doing, concerns about the next generation health such as diabetes,cancers….are really mine ….and yes sometimes the apparently most foolish actions are the wisest to raise up consciousness…
    We are part of this big community who want to contribute to make this world a better place for all the living .
    With all our love and support!
    Keep Going….catherine

  3. What a blog you have my friend!

    Following your journey with my wife, every day, from Bogotá, Colombia. Admiring the IC’s inhumane effort, and also admiring your sensibility and your capacity to express it in words.

    Keep on going and keep on writing. You are inspiring me to get on my bike early today and go on with my 2 hour ride.


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