Sometimes Stuff Happens

2009 ChesapeakeMan Ultra Distance Triathlon race report

This is a rough and dirty recap of the Chessyman weekend. I wanted to get something out as soon as possible as I have received many messages of both concern and good wishes. Thanks for everyone’s support…

I started racing multisport events in the mid 1980s. One would think over that stretch of time that there must have been a race somewhere that got the best of me in one way or another to the point of being unable to finish. It is an unsettling feeling to search race results and see those three letters D-N-F next to a participant’s name; referencing their “did not finish” race status. Up until this weekend, I never knew firsthand what that felt like, and I knew I was playing an odds game that would eventually catch up to me. And it did. At the 2009 ChesapeakeMan Ultra Distance Triathlon in Cambridge Maryland this weekend, I got to experience the despair of my first official DNF.

The weekend started out like the other five “Chessyman” ultras that I have successfully completed. I got into Cambridge on Thursday, dropped my belongings at the gorgeous house we had rented from a friend and headed over to help out race director Rob Vigorito with registration.  By 6 pm I rallied with my buddy Jim Wilson for a nice pasta dinner. Jim is a great guy who not only helps out with Vigorito’s races, he is also actively involved with Team in Training and is a leukemia THRIVER himself. It took Jim and I about 20 seconds to generate enough energy and enthusiasm in our conversation to power a utility plant. Jim has that certain knack of always being plugged in and aware and always knows just the right thing to say. Jim is just flat out good people and one of those guys that I would always want in my foxhole in any situation.

A few passing showers were threatening the forecast, but all things considered, race day was shaping up to be pretty nice. By Friday afternoon, my family started filtering into town and gathering at the house. I was able to spend most of Friday just relaxing and for the most part I stayed off of my feet. I felt good. I felt ready. I felt sufficiently trained and knew this course quite well. Weather is always a factor but one in which you can’t plan or predict a remedy so you just go with it.

Race day morning I arrived at the swim start and had a 30 minute conversation with myself (and anyone else who would listen) on whether I should wear my sleeveless or my full wetsuit.  Eventually, the sleeveless won the debate so I donned my neoprene and started my prerace fixed gaze out into nowhere. It’s a time where I look right through anyone or anything that I am facing as I try to get my head in just that right space before the start. Within a few minutes, the rest of my family all showed up with cow bells and signs in tow. I have a great support crew and they were out in near full force on Saturday. My one daughter, who was unable to make it, sent me a continuous flow of motivational text messages all weekend to help support our effort from back home. It was show time. It was ironman time. This would be my 11th full distance ironman. No more tomorrows.  It was time to get in the water and let the fun begin.

The swim was “ok”. It is relatively protected on three sides by land but I think that 4th side made up for that fact. We hit a lot of chop on the one leg and we all drank a whole heck of a lot of café mocha latte Chesapeake. I exited the water with plenty of time to spare… passed the family while exchanging high fives and cheers (and don’t forget those cowbells). With relative ease, I made my way in and out of “T1” and hit the road. This is always a very energizing point of my race. The swim was over and for the next 112 miles it was just me and my bike. I was comfortable with that. I feel at home on my bike. Or at least I did until mile 30.

At mile 30 I started to develop a dull ache in my right testicle which very quickly turned into an excruciating pain that was traveling up to my abdomen and under my rib cage. I started shifting my weight and adjusting my pedal stroke to try to ease the pain. It seemed a little better when I stood up on my pedals but that only borrowed me a little time until the pain got smart and caught up to me. I pulled into the food stop at about mile 40-something and passed right by the drinks, bananas, and gels, and pulled to the side. A volunteer came running up to me and asked me what I needed. I didn’t know what I needed, and my simple response was just that; “I don’t know”…. “I think I am injured but I don’t know the extent or cause”. I declined help at that point and headed back out on the road. Halfway to the next stop I flagged down a moto support guy and told him I was in trouble.  He radioed for medical help but I actually kept riding and connected with my medical guy around mile 56.

From there I climbed into the support car with my bike on the roof and we drove back to the high school parking lot. My family was all there expecting to see me on two wheels as that high school is the mile 65 special needs area as well as the bike finish. Unfortunately, I arrived on four wheels and they immediately came running over to see what had happened. I met my family and race director Rob Vigorito who ushered me into the medical tent where I was examined by a top notch race medical crew. By this time the pain was all but gone so it was advised that I head over to the ER to get a quick ultra sound and to make sure there was no damage and to make sure there was good blood flow. A quick trip to the ER revealed just that – no damage and the blood flow was good. So, what the heck happened? Everyone is speculating one of two things. I either experienced a testicular torsion which then corrected itself. Or I had a severe nerve impingement while riding. Either way the result was the same – my health was good but my race was a bust. I’ll take that trade any day.

My wife and I headed back to the house so I could grab a bite to eat, visit with my awesome family who had come to see the race, and grab a warm shower. Around 9:30 PM my wife and I headed back to the race finish line. Rain had moved in but I needed to let the race director know I was OK and I also needed to pick up my bike. The other reason for wanting to go back to the finish line was to hang out and help usher in the last several race finishers of the day. We watched a handful of people cross the finish line, and all were memorable. But the sweetest moment of the day was when the very last athlete entered the high school stadium and approached the finish line. It was 70 year old Len Bennett from Groton Massachusetts. Len was also wearing a TEAM IN TRAINING race singlet. My buddy Jim Wilson (remember – fellow survivor and TNT guy) grabbed me by the arm, handed me one end of the finisher tape and ran with me over to the finish chute. Jim and I held the tape as 70 year old Len Bennett crossed the line in TNT race garb and was the last official finisher of the day.

So, I DNF’d! Who cares? My health is fine. And this was but one race of many past and many more to come. And over time I may or may not even remember the fact that I didn’t finish this year but I KNOW I will forever remember that Len Bennett did finish. And he finished in style.  And I will remember that I stood in the rain with Jim Wilson as Len broke the tape. This race also gave me valuable perspective. As a coach, mentor, writer, etc. I think I needed to know just what a DNF feels like. I don’t think I need to feel it again for a really long time, but I think I can take a few positives away from this.

As always, my family and support crew continue to make memories and make dreams come true. None of the things that I do would ever be possible without them in my corner.

Next up – New York City Marathon.

This entry was posted in ironman, leukemia & lymphoma society, team in training, triathlon and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Megan
    Posted September 29, 2009 at | Permalink

    Now you know what that feels like. It will make you a better coach, a better dad, a better friend, and gives you a story that you can tell when people need to hear a good “gotta think about yourself” story.

    I tell my girls all the time that you have to feel what 13th, 8th, 5th, and 2nd place feel like so you can truly appreciate 1st. This was your moment. You may not know why it happened now, but soon you will.
    Hindsight is a bitch, but she never lies.

    You’re still a hero in my eyes,
    DNF and all.

  2. Posted September 29, 2009 at | Permalink

    Hi Steve,

    I think you have the right attitude about the situation. A DNF is never fun but it is just a race and the fact that it does not seem to be a problem going forward medically is a good thing. I think it is important to look forward and find another challenge and be happy everything is okay.

  3. Posted September 29, 2009 at | Permalink

    Whew, Glad to hear all is as good as possible.
    I was definitely scratching my head throughout the day looking for you.
    Looked like an interesting course and race. Speak soon.
    Paul N. Goldstone
    aka brotherpaul

  4. Candyman
    Posted September 29, 2009 at | Permalink

    Steve, It’s good to hear that it’s only a temporary setback and you’ll be back in the saddle in no time. Keep the positive vibes. Every race that you do, you meet another competitor and create a positive energy rush. A friend who was an Ironman Virgin met you at the race and was so excited – I met RemissionMan. As Suzy, who is an old friend of ours would say “ROCK ON”!!!!!

  5. Posted October 22, 2009 at | Permalink

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  6. Posted October 22, 2009 at | Permalink


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