Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Ironman began as a challenge thrown down from my aunt over a year ago.  Along the way, I have enjoyed getting to know her more closely as we talked, planned, encouraged, and trained together.  Triathlon has a way of connecting people!  As we walked over to the transition area, I read to her my latest text message from my daughter and my aunt almost cried.  It was beautifully written and helped both of us calm our pre-race jitters.
            Since I was the one who had the most triathlon experience, I was always the one helping my aunt along but today was different.  I was in panic mode as we dropped off special needs bags, aired up bike tires, tried to find the body markers, scurried to suit up for the swim and stand in line for one last potty break.  My aunt was the calm one as she reminded me of my daughter’s message for the day, smile and have fun or it’s pointless!

            We crowded our way through to the swim entrance.  I had worried for weeks about the water temperature but our practice swim the day before was therapeutic on many levels.  We jumped in and said goodbye to each other as we made our way to open spots in the traffic of 2500+ athletes.  Surprisingly I felt all alone.  The emotion of a year’s worth of preparation hit me and I started to tear up as every swimmer was yelling in answer to, “Who’s going to be an Ironman today!?”
            Then it was back to business; calming my heart rate, treading water while cleaning out my goggles of salty deposits and repositioning myself in a nice open spot of water.  I kept repeating my race phrase given to me from my best friend, “I got this!”  The cannon went off and all of a sudden my open spot of water wasn’t so open anymore.  It was like being in a washing machine, although I’ve never actually had that experience before.  I had talked to some locals in previous days and they told me just to survive the swim. 
            After about 800 meters I finally was able to get in the groove but I had made the mistake of positioning myself on the inside lane.  Once again, total chaos ensued at the turn around point.  Then I started catching slower swimmers but there were so many of them I couldn’t make a pass.  Fine by me.  I was content to just enjoy the battle.  That’s when a swimmer behind me grabbed my ankle for leverage and started pulling me under!  No sir!  One kick and I decided it might be worth it to make a pass.
            The finish was just as wild as the start but I climbed out and immediately sought out my wife who was volunteering at the water exit.  I hugged her and got a sweet kiss!  That’s all I needed.  I got this!

            I was smiling at everybody as I made my way to the transition tent.  I just finished an Ironman swim!  I am racing in an actual Ironman!  The weather was absolutely stunning for this day.  As I made my way out on the bike I was still smiling, getting caught up in the reality of what I was doing.  Then I proceeded to get back down to business and check my heart rate.  Way too fast!  I had experienced bonking before and there was no way I was going to go through that today.  I didn’t care about my speed on the bike, only my targeted heart rate zones.  The 3 lap, 37 mile looped course was exactly like the locals had said it would be; a false flat heading up into the hills with a wind in my face, then reversing that for the way back into town.  I was flying on the return trip! 
            Again, I soaked up the crowds as I scanned for loved ones, grinning all the way.  That’s when the day started to get hard.  The wind had shifted and stiffened for the last 2 loops.  Not to mention that I had to go to the bathroom really bad.  My coach had advised me not to waste time stopping and just go right on the bike but my bike mechanic threw a fit when he heard that and told me to find another mechanic if I followed that advice.  I couldn’t take it any longer and stopped at mile 50 for some relief.  It’s a blessing to have to empty your bladder during this long of a race; it means the nutrition plan is working.
            The second loop finally thinned out the mass of racers and I thought I was doing great…until the pros started passing me like was I standing still.  I was so impressed!  Those guys and gals are good!  I had put my competitive drive to bed long before this race so there was no temptation to be like them.  God made me as me and all I wanted to do was be able to use me for His glory! 
            The mental games started on the third loop.  I loved what the race organizer said the night before, “Don’t try to control Ironman.  You’ll be in for a long and disappointing day.  Let the race come to you.”  One hundred twelve miles is a long way in the desert wind with your main motivation coming only from within.  That’s when all those supportive text messages, phone calls, emails, and training days with partners come into play.  It’s weird to say and I even considered chalking it up to hallucinations, but I literally felt the prayers and people back home pulling me along.  It’s also a great time to have some ongoing conversations with God; His presence is never more real than in the desert of loneliness.  With each passing mile I was convinced, I got this!

            Never before had I ever run 26.2 miles.  This was going to be my first.  After a quick change, I exited the tent and began my first of 3 laps.  I noticed I wasn’t smiling as much.  I also noticed the GI problems that started on the bike were getting worse.  I expected leg pains but this was a new kind of pain and a new level of doubt.  Not to mention that every advice I received in the past was telling me to expect “hitting the wall” at some point during the run.  I thought it would come at mile 18 or 20, my furthest ever distance.  I hit it at mile ONE!  I knew the aid stations were every mile apart so when I got to the first one, I was ecstatic.  That was an easy mile.  I was making this worse than it needed to be.  I was trying to control Ironman.  Then I looked back and noticed that I was only 200 yards from the start! 
            I was in trouble.  My mind was playing tricks on me.  My gut was playing gymnastics in me.  And now I was starting to notice I was getting dizzy and my vision was cloudy.  I checked my heart rate and it was good but I then noticed that I wasn’t sweating as much.  I attempted to stick to my nutrition plan but it wasn’t working.  I was supposed to run every 10 minutes and walk 1 but that wasn’t happening either.  The walks kept getting longer and longer until I passed a Godsend in the crowd who said, “Just keep moving forward.  Get some calories and keep pressing toward the goal.” 
            The sun hadn’t even set and I was already freezing; another warning sign.  So I stopped as soon as I could to get my long sleeve shirt and it helped.  I wasn’t going to take the on-course nutrition until way later in the race but I had to do something different.  Starting at mile 10, I was downing the coke, water, perform, chips, oranges, bananas, and chicken broth at every aid station.  I was expecting my body to completely rebel but the opposite happened.  God was right.  I needed those calories and He made sure I got the message. 
            I passed mile 18, then 20 and no wall.  In fact, the last 6 miles felt better than the first 20.  Could have been adrenaline or the calories but I’m convinced it was God.  By this time in the race I was preaching to myself.  The Bible records that Moses thought he couldn’t lead the Israelites away from Pharaoh and God told him, “I will be with you.”  Gideon thought he was too weak to take a stand and God told him, “I will be with you.”  Jeremiah said he wasn’t good enough to be God’s prophet and God told him, “I will be with you.”  Jesus Himself made a promise to me that “I will be with you, even to the very end of the age.”  Translated, that means, “Kouba, don’t worry about it, I got this!”

            One last piece of advice the race director gave us was to relish the finish.  He made a wise crack that he thought it was silly for athletes to struggle through 140.5 miles and then sprint to the finish.  Savor it.  Enjoy it.  Soak it all up.  And that’s exactly what I did!  I had longed for and dreamed of the day when I would hear, “Mike Kouba, you are an Ironman!”  Words cannot express the feeling of crossing that finish line; nor can they express my deepest appreciation for my relatives, my coach, my friends and my God who were with me every step of the way.  It was your dedication to me that fueled the accomplishment!  Coach Booher is so right, “It’s not about the T-shirt, it’s about the transformation.”  Not to diminish anything about this journey, I long for and dream of the day when I hear a much higher voice proclaim a much more meaningful phrase, “Mike Kouba, well done good and faithful servant.  Enter into your Father’s rest!”  As Ironman has taught me, I just need to follow the training plan, draw strength from God’s people, allow Him to receive all the glory when He crosses me over that line as I see His face nodding, “I told you I got this.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

God Crazy

This is crazy!  Long runs at 2 hours and 45 minutes and long rides at just under 7 hours; on top of long swims that cover 2.4 miles!  It’s called “race rehearsals.”  Why the need?  Because it’s good to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes time to be racing for 12-15 hours, at once.  Crazy or not, it’s smart.  You find new chaffing spots, dial in the proper water and nutrition levels, figure out what pacing allows for the longest possible endurance, and the joy of knowing that it is possible to cover the distance; except for the run, which apparently my coach wants it to be a surprise for me on race day;)

There may be many more surprises for me on November 20 but I’ll be ready when the rehearsals are over and the gun goes off.  In fact, the mental side of race day has already started.  I’ve spent almost 11 months training for this day.  My body is what it is and I’m preparing my mind for the best, the okay, and the worst case scenarios.  I have one more long swim and ride and then two taper weeks.  Wow, it’s getting close!

After all my moaning and complaining (see previous posts), I’m finally content.  Still nervous but God has brought me this far and He will always complete His plans for me.  I have only a limited idea of what the real deal will bring because I can only rehearse so much.  Still, whatever happens, it is my final goal that God will get the glory!  Doesn’t sound too crazy to me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I Don't Know

I hesitated making this entry because I’m not in the right frame of mind to make it.  It’s not pleasant to read or experience firsthand but this is part of my journey, so here goes.  After a 5 hour training ride, I had developed an irritation in the perianal area that quickly festered into a full-blown infection.  The abscess daily swelled in size, causing an extreme amount of pressure and pain.  I couldn’t take it anymore and finally went to the ER.  After his examination, he decided not to drain it because of the risks involved.  That meant finding a specialist which took another two days.  You know it’s bad when you can impress the doctor.  After an uncomfortable examination and an excruciatingly painful procedure, he said, “Wow!  That was a lot of fluid.”

No kidding!  And the news kept getting worse.  “It could come back, I don’t know.  Getting back on your bike should be at least two weeks, I don’t know.  The anti-biotics might clear it up, I don’t know.”  After my follow-up visit, the doc said it was healing fine but I still feel a knot.  Could be that he didn’t get it all.  Could be another one forming.  Could be scar tissue.  I don’t know and it’s driving me crazy!  Again, no help from the medical expert who kept repeating, “Hey, there will be more triathlons in your life.”
IMAZ is only 5 weeks away and my friends keep trying to encourage me about the mental side of training and racing.  Unless this all turns into a health risk type of thing, I’m still planning on going to Arizona.  I may have to find a miniature donut to use on the bike.  I may have to walk the marathon like a duck.  Or God may have other plans entirely.  I don’t know.  That’s why I’m trying to be content with Jesus’ words, “Let tomorrow worry about itself, each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Don't You Quit

I finished my very first half IM!  Everything was perfect for Redman Triathlon in Oklahoma City; weather, pacing, volunteers, nutrition, and finish!  Well, not everything went perfectly but I’m not complaining; I finished!  I did this race to prepare for the goal in Arizona and I learned some valuable lessons.  I had everything written out, double checked, and even printed on places to remind me.  The swim was calm and relaxed and right on target.  The bike was hilly but I never varied from the heart rate plan and I felt strong.  In the previous two shorter races I did, I bonked on the 6 mile run course.  Not this time!  I was flying through my first 6 miles of this 13.1 course.

Then I hit mile 7.  That’s when the wheels came off.  I had rehearsed my race day nutrition and I was following it perfectly until the run.  I knew I was behind on my caloric intake but I pressed on.  One of my favorite signs on the run was, “Your mind is telling your body to stop but your body is telling your mind to SHUT UP!”  It made me laugh and my legs were screaming.  I had to walk more than usual but I’ve learned to swallow my pride as a triathlete.  I tried to compensate by drinking the Gatorade at the aid stations but that upset my stomach.  I know, I know, never race with what you don’t train with.  I told you I learned some lessons.

Then, with 3 miles to go, as I was walking, two guys in street clothes, who were members of our tri4Him organization, encouraged me with these words, “Your savior carried His cross with every last step, and even when He fell on His knees, He kept going…for you; so don’t you quit!”  So, here’s my encouragement to you; when you’re out of gas, down on your luck, crippled with anxiety, or paralyzed by fear, keep moving forward!  Eventually the finish line will appear. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Well, the month of August was a slightly better month.  I probably need to be updating this blog thing more often.  Spent some major bucks at Koala Chiropractic after a wakeboarding wipeout.  Before strapping on the board, the $600+ nonrefundable IM entry fee flashed before my eyes and common sense took a back seat.  After 3 weeks of therapy, x-rays, e-stem, massage, and ice, it turns out to be a strained, possibly torn tendon.  

Rest was the prescription but once again, I didn’t listen.  At least I did my runs on a treadmill or track for softer pounding.  Had to get new shoes too because my plantar fasciitis was acting up.  I’m only training around 10 hours a week but that doesn’t account for all the hours of stretching, icing, weight workouts, and foam rolling.  It’s crazy!  My warm-ups and cool-downs seem to take forever!

Add to all of that my learning curve and this is a full-time job.  My nutrition on and off workouts have been defined and redefined again and again; constant practice.  I completed an Olympic distance this past weekend and was 15 minutes slower than my last race.  Normally I would be discouraged about it but I’m focused on Arizona; everything else is practice.  Plus, it was brutally hot!  So, there is my lesson for the month; keep your eyes on the goal and work through all the distractions.  However, as of today, I don’t think I’m gonna sign up for another race anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


The month of July was a particularly rough month.  My resolve and my faith are being tested.  Mechanical failures on the bike.  A two-flat day on a 3 hour ride.  Emotional roller-coaster rides in important relationships.  Injury.  Bad eating.  Missed workouts.  Job stress.  Summer colds.  I could go on and on because I am good at focusing on half empty glasses.  At least I recognize it, which is the first step in overcoming it.  Still, I am desperately searching for some incentive.

As my training load increases, I am constantly creating negative energy with serious doubts that I can accomplish my goal.  I suppose it stems from everything else happening in my life; it all seems connected.  There is so much to “fix” that I get overwhelmed, which doesn’t help the spiral effect.  So, I have a choice; I can quit or press on.  Neither choice appeals to me at the moment, but I have decided the press on.  I will do what I can; stick to the plan; adapt; and overcome.  In effect, I need to create incentive by increasing the good things and eliminating the bad ones; one thing and one day at a time.

If I fail, then so be it.  One thing is for sure.  Failure is an event, not a person.  The only real failure is in giving up.  Who knows where this road will lead.  At least it’s better than sitting on the couch wallowing in self-pity.  Let’s see what the month of August brings…