Ironman Bressler Does it Again, but Ever Again?
The convention holds that first-time marathoners are usually last-time marathoners as well, having been satisfied with the experience.
However, two time-marathoners are usually lifers.
The same thinking might be true for Ironman finishers, and the jury is out for two-time Ironman Yaakov Bressler, who coasted through his first Ironman in Lake Placid in 2012 but was whipped at the lash when he revisited in 2013.
If you read about his achievement last year and took in his post-race glow, you’d think you’d give it another go if you were him. However, if you know about how he suffered this year, you wouldn’t be so bold as he for a possible 2024 return. Let’s break it down by segment:
Sinus infection. This author has had those on two occasions, and can assure you that they hurt, a lot, and when you’re engaging in extreme physical activity, you’re convinced the pressure will collapse you without a moment’s notice, and someone will have to peel you off the sidewalk while you’re out on a morning run. Yaakov was laid up over Shabbos, but felt relatively okay come race day. At that point though, he couldn’t tell whether his headache was due to the residual sinus infection or his jangled nerves.
He jumped into the water however, on schedule.
Yaakov didn’t feel sick at this point, he was just terrified at the length of the endeavor, and the possibility of residual headaches mid-swim. He described it as “2.4 miles of terror.”
The difficulty of an open water swim is a huge barrier for those hoping to complete the Ironman triathlon. Yaakov described the swim course as “a giant boxing match.” He emerged without any bruises though; it must have been a clean fight.
He survived the first event, coming in at 7:03 faster than last year. and it was on to the next discipline. At this point he “felt good.” So good, in fact, that he shaved a full minute off of last year’s transition time, and was now 8:08 ahead of last year.
Yaakov started off quite strong, at most check-ins coming in a bit faster than last year. During the first loop of the 112-mile bike portion, is where he began pouring it on, at one point pushing so hard, he was 13 minutes ahead of last year’s pace.
During the second loop, however, things began to unravel just a bit, and he started to feel “not so crispy.” He lost a bit of focus and absorbed a 4-minute penalty.
At the end of the ride, however, he maintained his 13-minute ahead pace and was 17th in his division (at the same point last year, he was 16th, en route to a 10th place finish in the division overall).
But then came the…
This one didn’t go so well, though it did start well with a 7:48 per mile average for the first three miles.
Yaakov explained: “There’s this mind game I play on myself. I go ‘run one more mile – then stop.’ Then, when I get there I say the same thing to myself. This is how you usually get through the end of an Ironman. But this year I didn’t feel that inner strength that I usually do.”
He averaged nines and tens until the half-marathon point, where he “couldn’t believe” he had 13.1 miles to go.
At mile 16, he fell off his pace from the year prior. Yaakov then “exploded to pieces.”
He still managed to shuffle to mile 20, where he felt like he did at the finish last year. It was “worse than the wall” for Yaakov, and he experienced dizzy spells from there to the finish, walking in .3 mile spurts, shuffling for .4 miles, etc.
It began to be nightmarish at this point. He was “struggling to stay conscious.” He was right there, “teetering on the edge.”
He was crumbling. A very bad sign was that Yaakov didn’t find himself needing to use the facilities, despite the large amounts of water and cola that he was drinking. This is a hallmark of dehydration, despite that Yaakov was taking in a ton of liquid. He was continously sweating though, which is a good sign but you can’t sweat enough – under these extreme conditions – to offset the need to have your kidneys do their work. The mixed signals definitely contributed to his discomfort.
He continued on though, despite “such hell” that he was experiencing. At mile 24, he couldn’t do it anymore. He was “struggling to not sit down. Every step hurt.” People on the sidelines were screaming his name (which is on the bib alongside his number), and he was “embarrassed by his condition.”
All along Yaakov’s journey, his friends – particularly his JRunners and Kosher Cyclists brothers – were pulling for him over e-mail.
Eli Friedman gave the opening benediction of sorts, when he was the first of Yaakov’s JRunners friends to wish him luck.
Asher Fried served as play-by-play announcer, e-mailing statuses to the group, soliciting predictions (Yaakov desired 1.5 hours better than his ultimate finishing time of 12:05:17; 662nd out of 2536 competitors) and providing all of the numbers and statistics present in this article (in addition to correcting some of my math errors).
The rest of the guys piled on with encouragements and praise.
Perhaps Yaakov sensed this positivity in The Force, and he finished the race, upright, overcoming the course and the pain.
Yaakov summed it up as follows:
“It was more suffering than I anticipated, and I anticipated a lot.”
“It’s about dwelling in adversity, as opposed to conquering it. You gotta push it till you can’t anymore, then you keep going.”
Churchill said something like that once.
Therefore, I speak for my brothers when I say I don’t think this will be Yaakov’s last Ironman. No, it’ll be the second of many.
Because when you do it again, you just keep coming back again.
Iron Man III was the best of the bunch, after all.
Martin Bodek is the author of “54 Runners, 54 Stories: The Tale of the 2012 200k JRunners Relay Race,” available on Lulu.com and Amazon.com. Both Martin and Yaakov (and Eli and Asher) will be partaking in the 2013 edition. Kosher Cyclists will be pacing.