Thirty three seconds was the margin of my victory in the 1983 World Ironman Championships. With 5 miles to go, my friend, Pat, hollered at me, “Dave just over 5 minutes ahead. Tinley looks great; get going!” Two miles to go, I was down to two minutes.
I barely hung on and if there were another 50 meters in the race, Scott Tinley would have passed me for the win. Over the final 400 meters of the race, I was trying to maintain an upright running posture and singularly focusing on the pavement in front me, my vision and entire body seemed to be shutting down. I tried to acknowledge the crowd by raising a feeble finger and in the ABC coverage this moment is caught on camera where I nearly collapsed!
I was physically and psychologically drained. My third victory was a memorable one!
Going into the race, I had let my fitness fall off over the final two months of the summer preparation. I remember flying over to Kona thinking if I can pull off this race with my poor preparation, the only element that will allow me to maximize my day was to extract the highest level of psychological fortitude. Maintaining this emotional and mental spirit was the only reason I was able to win.
Coming out of the water I was in good shape and before the race I decided my only tactic was to go hard from the outset. The 112-mile cycling leg was brutal with over 45 miles of cross and headwinds. Scott and I started the marathon together. I went out very hard and in the first 14 miles opened up a 7-minute lead. This was my greatest margin.
At the halfway point of the marathon, I knew my physical fatigue was soaring exponentially. My very rough running style was now relegated to a slower gait and I keep reminding myself to take small divots out of the remaining minutes (not miles!). All the sensory cues of maintaining good core stability a seemingly easiness with my arm movement and a light midfoot stance were streaming through my head. I knew my form was a mess and Scott was stalking.
Over and over through the remaining miles, I would play these short mental games within a 100 to 200 meter section. Finally at the 5-mile mark, when my friend Pat shouted out Scott’s time, he nearly deflated my small seeds of hope! Winning the race was one of my greatest days.
To top off the day, another friend handed me a rice cake within a minute of crossing the finish line! I could barely stand nor hold my eyes open and my nutritional choice post race was a rice cake; the nutrition density of a dirty shoe!
It’s a hilarious shot nearly 36 years later and the vivid reminders of the day still resonate with me.
For those of you that struggle mentally and psychologically during challenging times throughout your races, here are the takeaways:
1. Regardless of your fitness, every race has opportunities to extract your best day.
2. There are many facets to racing. Once you heighten and hang onto your psychological willingness to never give up, you will maximize your mental tenacity.
3. Waves of defeat slide into your brain when the fatigue and the signals of failure become evident. Override these feelings by doing what you can do at the moment!
4. Failure is not an option. Even in the darkest moments of racing, hang onto your mental spirit.
5. Don’t eat rice cakes – ever!