Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chris Lieto diary: Top American finishes 11th overall at Ironman

By Chris Lieto, Special for USA TODAY

The day is done, the fight is over, some would say I lost, but the battle was won. I fought hard out there all day, took the risks to try and win and the day did not go as planned. I may have lost the ultimate prize of becoming world champion, but I pushed through some of the most difficult times in my professional career and came home with the prize of top American.

I arrived here to win this race, not to finish 2nd or 3rd so I took the risk early on the 112-mile bike portion and pulled away from the rest of the field. Riding under my own pace and energy in the gusty and hot conditions, I separated myself from the main group of contenders by almost 8 minutes as I began the 26.2-mile run. I was in the perfect place and feeling great, or at least as good as you can feel after riding 112 miles.

Through the first 8 miles of the run I was feeling great rolling along and holding my lead. At that point my body started to tighten up and I went from running smooth and free to locking down and my legs were not responding to what my mind was asking for. The heat started to increase my core temperature and I felt like I had entered an oven. The radiant heat on the road was reaching 120 degrees and my body started to shut down. I remember running on the highway at around mile 13 and having to stop at an aid station as I felt my body about to completely shut down.

Once I stopped, my body could not balance itself as I wobbled from side to side; I was shaking my head trying to wake up my body. My eyes and focus started to get very narrow and dark and I felt as if I was about to fall over and pass out. I stood there in front of a table full of water, Coke, and Ironman Perform and started drinking as much as I could. I must have put down a Big Gulp amount of fluid. I stood there taking ice-cold sponges and drenched my body trying to get my core temperature to drop.

After a few minutes of doing this, I finally felt my body responding and I had to try and push through. At this point I lost my lead and was looking at the new leader in front of me. All I could tell myself is that it is not over yet and never give up. I made myself push on and push hard, anything can happen and there is still a long way to the finish. I was running well and holding my place, but that painful cycle kept creeping in as I fought through the marathon. Dealing with the repetitive routine of keeping my body awake and moving I finished the day in 11th place and top American.

I lost the victory I was searching for, but I fought through some of the most difficult times in my career. I pushed through the challenges and stretched my body beyond what I thought I could pick myself up from and still finished well. Chris McCormack took the 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship title and battled well as always. He is an amazing talent and I congratulate him.

I am doing well now and my body is starting to come around. My legs are still sore and it is difficult at times to even step down off a curb or bend down to pick something up off the ground. In the next day or so my legs and body will feel back to normal, but it takes many weeks for the body to fully recover from that kind of effort. When you put everything out there and ask so much of the body it takes a long time for it to rebuild. You have to repair the muscle damage and get your mineral balance and body reserves back up.

I have been eating whatever I have a craving for. At first I was craving sugars, eating cinnamon rolls, ice cream, and pizza. Your muscles use sugar for fuel and energy all day and they were all used up, so I try not to limit my cravings and enjoy them. The important thing is to get calories in your body, especially carbohydrates, as this is what is completely drained out of you. The cravings then shift to proteins, of which I have had at least 4 cheeseburgers in the last 2 days.

Another part of the recovery process is to get some movement in the first week after the race, but nothing more than 30-40 minutes worth and the efforts are very easy. For example, I like swimming/playing in the lagoon with my son here at the hotel. It is more about getting the blood to move through the body and getting movement in the muscles to encourage healing. It is not about exercise, just about healing.

I am now taking the time to relax and enjoy the last few day here in Hawaii with my family. It is time to make up for some of the time I lost with the family as I was preparing for the event. I would not have the ability to contend for the Ford Ironman World Championship if it was not for the support and love of my family.

At first I was disappointed that I was unable to have the day I know I could have and didn't win; as soon as I crossed that finish line on Saturday I knew how lucky I have been, how much I have, and how blessed I am. I will give myself a week or so before I dive deep into reflection of my race and try to figure where and how the day went wrong and how we can limit that, as I will be back again to try and bring the World Championship back to the USA. Thanks again for all your support, and be sure to watch the race on December 18th at 4:00 PM on NBC!

Keep trying and never give up!

— Chris


Ray Doolittle said...

There are a lot of people who are pround of you, Chris. Keep it up. You are a great athlete and have an awesome testimony!

God bless!


Joseph said...

Great job on the race!! 11th is much more than any of us could ever dream of! and let's not forget about that time on the bike! Mind blowing! Great job and I know the next Ironman you will conquer!