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A Dream Deferred

By November 27, 2011December 1st, 201129 Comments

They say the best way to make God laugh is to tell him what your plans are. I got a full dose today.

I trained for this Ultraman race for a year.  I could not have been better prepared or supported. And I had high expectations. Not about what place I would end up.  But simply to race to my potential. To push my body and spirit to the absolute limit and see what I was capable of.

Things didn’t really work out.

Everything started great. From the first swim stroke on Day 1 (10K swim + 90 mile bike) I felt fantastic. Well below my threshold, I quickly built a steady and early lead, with Swede Jonas Colting tucked in right beside me. For the first 1500m – 2K, we swam together. A pace I felt I could easily hold all day long. Jonas was getting a nice draft off my left side, just a few feet to my rear. I couldn’t tell if he was pushing himself to keep pace or just enjoying a bit of a free ride, so I tested the waters with a quick surge to see if he would match the pace. But he held back, and a little gap developed – a few meters. I didn’t want him inching back up, so I decided to hold my increased pace for a spell until the gap grew. Steadily until I had built a solid lead of a few minutes. But I never overdid it. Never exceeded a sustainable effort that would put my overall day in jeopardy. From there I swam strong. And felt I was well on my way to a possible swim course record – somewhere in the 2:10 – 2:12 area.

But as it always does, at about the 4.5 mile marker, as you near the Outrigger Keahou Hotel, the currents shift. And it stops you dead. That last mile and a half seemed to take forever. Nonetheless, I ran up the shore at Keahou Bay after 10K at 2:18. Three minutes faster than my 2009 effort. And feeling great.

But things would soon change.

I had a quick transition to the bike, but that’s when things started to fall apart. For the first 2 miles, it’s straight uphill for abut 1,000 feet of gain. And hot.  Then another 3-4 miles of steady uphill grade to the town of Captain Cook. I couldn’t find my legs. My heart rate was racing and despite backing off, I couldn’t get it under control. The watts on my power meter plummeted. And the rest of the day I rode in relative survival mode.

During training, I didn’t actually swim all that much. I have that background. Instead, I decided to train my weakness – cycling. And over the last 2 years I have made dramatic improvements since my 2009 Ultraman attempt. Sure I wanted to put in a good swim, but coming out of the water first was never a goal.   I was much more excited to see what I could do on the bike. I had put in the time and was ready to match pedal strokes with the big boys.

Instead, I rode slower than I did in 2009 (my time was faster this year but the conditions were much better – nary a headwind on the Volcano climb). I held a seemingly safe 2nd place most of the day (after Colting passed me on the first climb in the first 10 minutes of the ride), then on the final backbreaking 18 mile / 3900 foot ascent up Volcano, I was passed like I was standing still by Mike Coughlin with only 12 miles left (Mike went on to post the day’s fastest bike split) and Alexandre Ribeiro with only 7 miles to go.  

Day 1 is always humbling.  For a good perspective on this, check out Jonas’ video recap of Day 1.  And you can read some of my thoughts in this recap on Slowtwitch.

4th overall on the day.  Not bad.  I am proud of that result.  Jonas, Alexandre Ribeiro and Mike Coughlin rode like the wind.  My hat goes off to them.  Big respect.  But the fact remains –I know I didn’t perform anywhere close to what I know I am capable of.  And that hurts.

I had nothing.

How could this be? Checking my power meter, I saw watts I would see on a typical mellow Zone 2 aerobic training ride. Except my heart rate was racing at 25-30 beats higher than normal. Maybe I overdid it on the swim? No, I don’t think so. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.  But what?

For sure, I was happy to win the swim stage. But again, this was never a goal. I was here to excel in the overall. And all indicia from training indicated that I was ready to do so. So what happened? I had no idea.

After a boatload of recovery food, I hit the sack early, squeezed tight into a full body suit of compression gear to help reduce the inflammation in my weary body and aching legs. Tomorrow is a new day. It’s a long race. I’ll find my legs, I told myself. Then I started to shake. And sweat. I went to the bathroom and coughed. A metallic taste. I spit into my hand and saw blood. My face was flush and I started to feel cold, despite the sweating. A fever. Great.

But I put it out of my mind and just collapsed. I slept hard, but sweat through my shirt and sheets. Nonetheless, I felt OK when I woke up. So I chose to say nothing to my wife and crew and just focus on the day ahead.

And Day 2 started out better. My legs felt strong, and I easily matched pace with the leaders down the wicked descent from Volcano. The crosswind gusts were stiff and it rained sideways, but I felt decent. Happy to be on my bike mixing it up with all the top guys.  And under control.  But as we headed south and started hitting some rolling terrain, I knew things were off.  I felt weak.  My skin aching to the touch.  My face flush.  I spit on my forearm.  Blood.

Through the beautiful Red Road section, my power plummeted.  I eased off and tried to pick things up again, but the body just wouldn’t respond.  When I reconnected with my crew, I pulled off the road next to our van.

“Something’s wrong with me.”

I got off my bike and sat in the tall reeds for a moment.  I knew what it would mean to pull out.  All that time, work and effort for naught – the downside of putting all your eggs in just one race bucket.  I also knew what it would mean to soldier on.  Six hours of suffering remained just to finish.  I wasn’t here just to finish.  Been there.  Done that.  And at what cost?  I was here to perform.  And today that just wasn’t in the cards.

The race doctor was summoned.  Sure enough, some significant congestion in my lungs.  Possibly exercise induced pneumonia.  Maybe bronchitis, exacerbated by yesterday’s strain.  I almost never get sick.  And now?  The irony.  

So I made the difficult and heart wrenching decision to pull out of the race.

To be sure, I am heartbroken.  So badly did I want to perform to my ability.  Undertook everything to ensure that I do so.  And sacrificed much just to be here.  A good lesson in how little control I have over most things.

Nonetheless, I remain grateful.  To be here, and for the experience.  All the important things in my life are well intact.  Certainly I am deeply disappointed.  But in the grand scheme of things, it is a very small matter.  I have no doubt that I will be back.  Better and stronger than ever.  Live to fight another day.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.  Because it does.

For now, I’m tucked in bed in the house we rented up in Hawi on an organic farm.  Our family home for the next few weeks.  Time to spend with the kids, put this setback in the rear view.  Focus on my family.  Reflect on the countless blessings in my life.  And move forward.

This race was never about me.  So when I climbed into my crew van this morning, defeated and weak, I felt like I let everyone down.  All those that have supported me.  Family, friends and sponsors for sure.  My devoted crew, including my wife, stepson Tyler, locals Todd Clark and Mike Field and Compton Rom who travelled from LA just to be here with me.  But also those of you who have found some small amount of inspiration in my story.  

Then I looked at my phone.  And was immediately overwhelmed with the outpouring of support I have received this afternoon.  Online, phone calls, messages of concern and support.  You have no idea how much this means to me.  I am more than humbled.  Honored beyond words.  And I promise to carry the torch forward.  Make it up to you and come back strong.  Stronger than ever.


  • Brett B. says:

    Big love, man.  Your character shows when things get tough.  Relax in that warm weather and recover!  Kai says, “Hi!” 🙂

  • Rich,

    As always, your heartfelt brutally honest candor is only momentarily out-shined by your eloquence.
    Your journey is such a brave one.
    You travel this road with Honor and you share it with others from a place of Grace.
    I am not on Twitter, but have followed you these past two days on the LIVE section of your site, holding for a full and rich experience for you and your family during this race.
    It looks like you got just that.
    Being one who is very attached to things going the way I imagine (as you well know,) I am humbled by your perspective on these two days and the grace (and speed) with which you reached out to your community because you knew how concerned we all were.
    You are clearly loved and supported.
    You are an Ultra Man.

    Much love to you,

    Stacie Isabella

  • Gordon Ginnings says:

    Rich….sorry to hear about your withdrawl….let your family take care of you and get healthy!!!


  • James Gilbert says:


  • Jon Ham says:

    Hang in there Rich, and try not to be discouraged.  We all fall down to no fault of our own. You will be back.  

  • Damon Brinson says:

    No greater challenge — to have prepared as a warrior and then make the call to stop, to wait for another day.  It’s been thrilling to ride along with you through your story.  And your courage and openness in sharing all of it is deeply honorable.  With sincere thanks and respect, I wish you peace and a blessed recovery.

  • John Callos says:

    Rich, of course you are disappointed; that’s natural.  We work so hard for these events and sacrifice so much.  I totally get that buddy.  You trained hard, damn hard.  But in the end, despite dropping due to health reasons, you continue to inspire over 5,000 of us who follow you daily.

    And for me, my life has been forever changed due to your support and inspiration.  I completed Ultraman Worlds with an incredible performance because you believed in me.  Well Rich, you have thousands of others, just like me, that believe in you man.

    I am just glad that you are safe.  Sure you could have muscled through the day, I get that.  We often do after a very tough ride or a bonk half-way through.  But this is not the time to prove anything, because you simply have nothing to prove.  Your supporters and your sponsors totally understand.  We want you safe and healthy and well to race another day and to inspire the thousands that are changing their lives by your example.

    I love you man.  I love your family and everything you are doing for us mere mortals.

    You are still our hero and always will be.

    Hang tough brother and enjoy this time with your family.

  • Rich – 

    A bad day happens to everyone.  But even among elite endurance athletes, nearly no one has the courage and dedication to toe the line at Ultraman.  

    Be proud.  You inspire many who have jobs, families, commitments, to get out there and make the effort.  Get better soon.

  • Jennifer Nottage says:

    When we simply can not enlarge our spiritual lives any further; the whole point of this journey; then we are done.  Your tapestry; and UItraman; has only just begun.  There’s more……….much more………maybe something about the farm; the island; the mana; something…….I remember when I was rock bottom; big time; so weak I couldn’t turn the cranks……..hell……knowing that I was fit; I was a lot of things……….and yet….you came flying by……..on an older Colnago…..white with the four leaf rainbow clovers……….my most favorite bike in the world…… on the Queen K……….and you noticed MY colango….and I time trialed up to you……..all of a mile….blew myself (my sorry self) to bits……..just to find out who you were…..”Richard Roll” and I said, “well nice to meet you; you have way more horsepower than me right now………..nice to meet you………….” and you rode on…….I’m still riding……………and ready to race………..I just never thought that I’d fall off the path I was on…………..oh how humbled am I…………keep it rollin………….and thanks…………for putting yourself out there so that someone like me here can be inspired………..this stuff does matter…………I have two kids and an amazing husband………….it just so matters…………I’ll be running out on the Queen K tomorrow with Suzy D.  Yea:-)  I’m not sick anymore; unable to turn the cranks………..grace……pure grace…………..

  • Fabio says:

    Get better soon Rich! You’ll come back stronger. Big hug from Brazil!

  • Marc Campanaro says:

    Your history of overcoming obstacles and challanges speaks for itself.  I have no doubt you will come back strong next year.. You have inspired me to go plant strong and get back into sprint tri’s.. thank you

    All the Best.

    Marc Campanaro

  • Steve Tipp says:

    Rich continue to be a blessing and inspiration.  Rest up, feel good, we live to fight again another day.

  • Lisa says:

    Be well, Rich. You are an amazing athlete. Enjoy your time with family!

  • Arshadbahl says:

    Rich –  as a fellow Plant Based Endurance, I understand  and sympathize with the pain you are going thru. But this is a journey we are all on and to get to the highs we all go thru the lows. 

    Get rest, recover and learn from this – I am sure there were signs of this along the way – we all ignore them when we are driven by a goal.


  • Todd says:

    I know you are disappointed and heartbroken at having to withdraw.  I wish you a speedy recovery, enjoy the time with your family.  I hope you get the chance to compete in the Ultraman again next year.

  • Hector says:

    Rich, I know how hard you worked for this. You couldn’t have worked harder. You did what you needed to do. Sometimes, it’s just not in the cards.

    You’ve inspired us at Franco Bikes and countless others. In my humble opinion, that is a bigger victory.

  • Mike B. says:

    Rich, we haven’t met. I came to know of you during last year’s UM. In this article you’ve done a great job of concisely sharing and summarizing at least a portion of your emotions. It’s great of you to share so much with us. I look forward to following you through whatever adventure is up next for you. Keep inspiring!

  • Mike Abbott says:

    You so did the right thing. To willing to celebrate the spoils of victory we have to accept the possibility of this type of outcome. If this wasn’t the case the victory wouldn’t be as sweet. So no point breaking the only body we get for this ride. So as hard a call as that is it’s the right one. When your health is in question there really is no other call you can make. when you’re healthy you can race another day and inspire your fans.


  • Much respect, Rich. The decision to drop out is never easy. But considering the sintoms you were having, I would say this is the text-book scenario where dropping out was the unquestionable right decision. 
        Real courage comes from real vulnerability. Setting yourself out to conquer easy tasks is a coward’s errand. Few have the courage to take on a race where you put so much in stake (a whole year, huge rewards or equally sizable disappointment. And the way you have done it, risking everything by putting an all-out effort, takes the most courage of all. 
          Congratulations on the courage of being such an warrior. 

    Big Hug, 

    Mario A. Maddalozzo
    Curitiba – Brazil. 

  • CJ Ong, Jr. says:

    Grace is how we react to the unexpected.  You are a person of grace.

  • Frank Esquilin says:

    Keep your chin up my brother, you are a champion. Is not in our time but on his time. I am proud of you so my family. You are a sheepdog. Get well soon.

  • Josh says:

    your result in this one race doesn’t affect my admiration for you or the inspiration I (or any of us) draw from you.  And we all know you’ll continue to inspire and amaze us!

  • jeff says:

    fall down 7, get up 8…your humility and passion inspires us all.

  • Jarousek76 says:

    As an athlete and someone who knows you well, this is very hard for me to digest. Just reading your blog gets me even more emotional and touchy. Hundreds of hours spent to prepare for this grueling event and then this unfortunate event. But I believe it will make you stronger and better for the next year. Enjoy your time with your family and look forward to the next year. No matter what, you are an inspiration.

  • Hall Gary says:

    Rich, Gary Hall,Jr. here to say way to go brother! I know your passion and your heart.  We are all thankful your o.k. and your able to stand and fight another day.  Your humble spirit has inspired even me to look to change my own life and start training for cycling.  It was good to meet you in person while in Vegas at the Cosmo.  I will never forget how kind you are and what a tiger you are on the race course.  God Speed for a mighty recovery and an Awesome Next Season.  Oh I am happy I was able to get a photo with you. Even though we took 3-5 minutes to get it right. LOL!! My best inspiration of a Brother who has true fight and passion. God Bless!!

  • Pat O'Brien says:

    Rich… It’s me, Patrick O’Brien.  Your years worth of training for this event was NOT in vain.  It was a year of a lot of ups in your workouts… and I’m sure a few disappointments as well.  Just think about it.  You never know how you will be or feel on any given day, right?  This just happened to be one of those down days.  Thats all.  But you know what?  You inspired the hell out of me out there… TRULY!!!  Though you had to pull out, you accomplished so much already in the race, and you should be damn proud of that… We are all proud of you.  And I have no doubt in my mind that you will continue to accomplish so much more in this life.  Your journey is meant to be… and you are a true go getter, and an astounding athlete for sure. The best is yet to come, my friend.  Peace is every step.  Stay happy, and peace to you brother.  All the best, Patrick 

  • Anonymous says:

    holy cow…that was intense.  Nice effort Rich and get better…

  • Lweinmeister says:

    Always such an inspiration, Rich. Truly. This event may be a defeat in some ways, but a grand victory in many more. You will succeed in due time! Thank you for sharing your experience. You never fail to instill encouragement in my life.

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