The Half Ironman 70.3 World Championship is finished! My friend, Geron Cowherd, achieved a life goal August 30th, 2015. He joined over 2800 other athletes from 60 countries around the world. The site for the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championship was a picturesque mountain setting: Zell am See, Austria.
Geron won his qualifying spot for the World Championship last summer at the Muskoka Half Ironman September 2014, where he placed third in his age group. I was there at Muskoka racing my first half ironman and I feel like I have been along for Geron’s journey. We celebrated together at Muskoka last year, when we both qualified (but sadly I could not go).
I am thrilled to interview Geron about his successful World Championship debut. He is a training partner, friend and excellent chiropractor. He rocked the race, overcoming many obstacles in the days leading up to it.
Race Day – August 30, 2015
Geron was strong, steady and focused. “Let the Happiness in!” was the official race motto, and Geron embraced this attitude wholeheartedly. He compared the race to “Christmas Morning”; after all his months and years of training, this was the celebration! Geron executed an amazing race in extremely hot conditions (32 C). Generally Geron is used to beginning a race around 7am; however, at Worlds the pros did not begin until 10:45am and the age categories followed. Geron’s age category (males 55;59)did not begin until 11:41am. The delayed start meant the race occurred during the hottest part of the day. From the outside, one might never know all the hurdles Geron had to overcome prior to race day.
Geron had a solid SWIM of 33:53. His goal was 32 min, but he says the race start was crazy, with 200 people starting at once and all very evenly matched in speed (unlike other races where athletes spread out much more quickly). At Worlds, all the athletes are strong swimmers! “It was a panicky start. Probably the most panicky I’ve ever experienced.” Geron had been trying to swim in tight close to the buoys, but had to eventually swim out further to avoid the thrashing and kicking. Overall, he felt he had a great swim nevertheless.
The BIKE is Geron’s strength. He felt great going into the first climb. He knew the bike course, having ridden the full 90km 5 days prior to the race, “at a pedestrian pace, with stops for photographs”. The race course was challenging, with speed varying dramatically with the rising and falling terrain. For example, Geron averaged 38km/hr for the first 21km, and then averaged 17km/hr for the 13 km climb. This mountainous road through the spectacular Alps was at a 6 – 8 % grade for 11kms, finishing with a 14% incline for the final 2km, requiring 9 min. of standing on the lowest bike gear! Then the fun, fast and furious descent! This included 5 switchbacks at a 10 – 14% grade. Geron averaged 42km/hr for 35min, the fastest he has ever gone for that distance! Geron’s final bike time was an incredible 2:48:15 on a very challenging course.
Heading out on the RUN, Geron was smiling, but did exclaim, “Wow, that mountain took something out of me!” With the 32 to 35 degree C temperatures, the run was suddenly more a survival experience than a race. Geron walked through each water station, stuffed cold sponges and ice down his pants (helpful tip: to prevent overheating, apply cold to groin and underarms for the quickest cooling effects). Athletes were walking long sections, throwing up along the route, and just trying to make it through to the finish. Geron did it! He completed the run in a time of 1:56:31. Though not his goal time, it was completed. Geron finished the race in a time of 5:31:29 and came 34th out of 85 competitors in his age group.
Hurdles Leading Up to the RACE
JM: “What was the biggest hurdle leading up to the race?”
Little did I know when I asked this question just how dramatic the obstacles were that Geron had to overcome in the week leading up to the race. Never mind the stress of flying overseas, trying to sleep with crying infants on a red-eye flight and then overcoming jet lag to be race ready.
The first obstacle revealed itself as Geron was assembling his bike post flight and noticed a broken nose-piece on the bike. Ironically, he had just replaced this part the week before he flew, so he knew the damage happened during the flight. This piece is essential for braking – without it you have no front brakes (kind of important to have during a mountainous race). Geron solved this crisis with some crazy glue reinforced with tape. When he did his trial ride of the full race route later in the week he was assured that he had successfully repaired the piece and eased his fears over the bike. It was going to hold and the brakes were going to work!
The second obstacle came when Geron strained his rib on a makeshift foam roller he had rigged up out of equipment he found at the hotel (something like a pool noodle). Lesson learned: don’t use new equipment the week leading up to a race. A rib-strain can take at least 2 to 3 weeks to heal. As a chiropractor and owner of Lake Street Chiropractic Clinic, St. Catharines, Geron knows the facts and he knew this was a major problem. With the use of LED In-Light Therapy (a tool he had brought along from his chiropractic clinic), kinesio tape and anti-inflammatory homeopathic remedies, Geron managed to heal quickly and perform well in the race, despite some residual pain and decreased mobility.
The third obstacle to which most athletes can relate: fighting the elements of doubt. “Have I done enough training? Could I have trained more intelligently? Was riding the course prior to the race too much?” Doubts were setting in all the more due to the bike damage and body injury. Thankfully, Geron has an incredible supporter in his wife Shelley. She had thought ahead and asked training partners, work colleagues and family members to write encouragement notes to Geron for the race (he got one from me). Shelley had planned to give the notes to Geron the night before the race, but following the rib-strain, she started giving Geron a couple notes per day. There were 11 cards in all, which leads me to the…
Highlight of the RACE
JM: “What was the highlight of the race?”
Geron’s highlight was receiving the affirmation from loved ones. Reading and rereading the words of encouragement in the days leading up to the race, as well as reciting them during the event, greatly reduced the doubts and challenges. Geron says these words of reassurance and faith carried him through the entire triathlon! During our interview, Geron read many of these notes out-loud and got visibly emotional as he read the encouraging words. He held onto these words of inspiration in the days leading up to the race and during the race. “Your time has come. You’ve put a lot of work in. I feel that you’re ready now. All that’s left is you have to believe that you’re ready.” These were the words of support from Geron’s bike coach. The cards from his two children were particularly encouraging, as they cheered him on and described how incredible a role-model he is to them. Shelley’s last surprise was a huge custom made banner highlighting Geron’s past race successes. She held that banner up at various locations throughout the race. Geron described how powerful a tool it was to receive that affirmation from others.
Geron is almost completely satisfied with his race. He gives it a 9 out of 10! He did his best given the conditions. On another day, with a different course and different weather conditions, Geron thinks he could break 5 hours.
JM:“What are your goals for the future?”
Geron: “Barrelman Half Ironman is in two weeks…” Geron is right on to the next goal. He explains that he has worked so hard all year at his swimming and cycling. He knows he as a faster race in him and thinks that now is the time to do it, when he is so fit. “I have a 32min swim in me!” Having said that, Geron also realizes that he needs time to recover from not only the physical training, but also the mental and emotional intensity that are wrapped into such a huge goal event. Suffice it to say, Barrelman is not a sure thing, but Geron has certainly entertained the thought!
I am impressed at Geron’s work ethic and consistent training. Geron has worked hard for his successes and it is an inspiration to me and many others. I wish him rest and recovery and time to bask in the experience of the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. “Let the Happiness in!”
As I look toward my first Full Ironman race next weekend, it is incredibly inspiring to hear from the successes of others. It is time for me to soak in some of this wisdom and be strong and steady, like Geron, as I focus on Challenge Cedar Point.
Credit for the banner design in the feature image goes to Rebel Storms of Big Footprints Inc., Cambridge ON.