Noah’s Turn

Today was the day that I was to become an Ironman at the 5th running of Ironman Louisville.  Plans change.  Things get delayed.  Priorities change.  And that’s ok.  What I love about today, though, is that Ironman – however individual it is – is a mountain to be climbed by so many others, and so no Ironman is alone in his struggle.  Though I’m 8.5 hours ahead on the clock and quite far from the reality of Ironman Louisville, I’m still anxious for it, because there are just over a thousand people out on the course as I type this, all putting a dream on the line after months and months of fighting to make it a reality.

One of those people is Noah Fessler, a friend of mine  that I met while training for IM Louisville (track him at  Noah’s putting it on the line today in a big way.  A month ago he wrote and said that his hip was really bothering him – a good week before his taper was to begin.  He was putting in crazy miles and had ramped up so well and with as much science as a pro, but luck wasn’t on his side and both the hip flexor and lower back seem to have come at him with a vengeance.  The day before that happened, Noah’s realistic goal time was 11:40.

Since that day, he’s hardly biked or run, but not for lack of trying.  Several times he tried to get back on the bike or get running again, but each time it ended in more pain and more muscle aggravation.  He called on several types of therapy and resting, resting, resting.  As any triathlete knows, though, this type of thing doesn’t just “go away” with the amount of training that goes into maintaining and building fitness.  So imagine the mental anguish – months and months of crazy hard work, and pulling up limp just weeks before the big show.  There must’ve been quite a few sleepless nights over the last few weeks, no doubt, as the problem has persisted and even gotten worse.  Twice recently he attempted to get back in the saddle – his last bike ended after under 10 miles, with shooting pain through his hip and back, and his last run ended with similar pain after less than 5 minutes.

Just 3 days ago he headed down to Louisville, not sure what the reality of starting the day would be.  Just last night he wrote, saying that he’d start the day, but wasn’t sure he’d finish.  His whole family will be there, and he may well pull a DNF in front of them – in any other sport, a potential embarrassment after months of telling them that he would do this…but, of course, Ironman is not any other sport.  He may not be able to prove to his family that he can rock the Ironman – one of the world’s most grueling athletic feats there is – and he surely won’t do it in the planned 11:40 time frame he had targeted.

But none of that mattered come 7:00 a.m.  Last I heard from Noah, he was in line for the swim – toeing the start line and ready to hit the water.  After all, isn’t a DNF about 100 times better – 100 times more meaningful – than a DNS?  He’ll make the attempt – and he may not make it to the end line if today is anything like his painful and frustrating last month, but Ironman is all about making the attempt.  So much better to try and fail – leave the pitch saying “I tried” – than to sit at home in an armchair, saving fragile pride and saying “I could do that”.  It takes balls to show up, especially knowing that failure is a very real possibility.

As of this moment, Noah is somewhere between 40 and 70.5 miles into the bike.  He made his swim in a stellar 1:13:32, and his bike average is floating around 17.3 – I’ve seen him go 19-20 on rollers like Louisville over long distances, so it’s clear that he’s not 100%, but he hasn’t left the course yet…holding my breath for the next time check.

Anybody can do an Ironman if they really want to.  Anyone can get up and tough out a painful day with a fine-tuned body….very few do, but tons of people really could.  How many, though, could take on one of the world’s toughest events with an injury that would convince most people to hang up their running shoes and hit the couch for a few months?  And how many of us would risk the real and probable potential of outright failure to go after something we really want?  If Noah finishes today’s race, my hat goes off to him – he’ll have done something deserving of respect, deserving of pride, and demonstrative of real grit.

And if he doesn’t finish today, my hat still goes off to him – he’s already done something deserving of respect, deserving of pride, and demonstrative of real grit.

Kick ass Noah.





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