Friday, April 30, 2010

Where in the World is Michael Bergquist?

This is a long read, but I’ve been missing for a while and a lot of catching up is left to do.

On February 22, 2009, I set out for an early season test. It was a 25K in Birch Bay, Washington. The test was not just to see if I was in my best run shape ever, let alone early season. It was to see if I could shave four minutes off my best 25K at a time of year that was a few months before any previous year would have allowed me to set an all-time PR. Somewhere around halfway through, it seems that I got lost in an injury and never made it to the finish line. Instead, some guy that looked just like me came limping across the line in what would be an all-time PR, but by only about half of the four minutes I was looking for. As the days turned into weeks and into months, it became apparent that the athlete that I was got lost out there in extreme northwest, Washington in Birch Bay and never came back.

2009 was to be my banner year after taking a giant leap forward in 2008. I worked so hard to get ready to improve on a 19 win, 12 course record year that it seemed like a sure thing. Instead, injury after injury left me scrambling from race to race like a person hurting for money lives paycheck to paycheck. If I’m really good at one thing, it’s finding a way to milk the absolute best out of my body in a short period of time. Despite injuries to my right calf, both quads and a hamstring on different occasions, I tweaked things well enough to pull off a 3rd consecutive win at Wenatchee. A couple weeks later, I suffered for my team in Lincoln for a respectable finish on aggravated injuries. In late May I felt like I pulled off a magic trick laced with good luck at the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship. Then on June 1st, my luck ran out and I suffered a set-back about as tough as my shattered collar bone a few years ago. Later I would break a toe, reinjure my back, neck arm, calf, etc.

Despite my poor run of luck, I gave it my best shot to pull out of this nose dive. I swam one-armed in two triathlons, giving up an enormous amount of time. I missed the UberMan Triathlon, which I was going to skip my annual trip to USAT Sprint Nationals to do. I kept trying within the limitations of my injuries, but my form and fitness continued to fall apart. It seems that perfect races under less than ideal fitness saved me some embarrassment.

One race was the Spokane Half Marathon, which I don’t know if I wrote about. I had won that half twice, the marathon once and have competed in both on a few other years that I didn’t win. I knew the course well and knew what I felt were my limits, so despite my pride, I did exactly what I thought I could do and with nearly perfect pacing, I came in 2nd overall with a time that would normally not be 2nd, but why beat myself any more while I’m down.

After Spokane, I basically disappeared. It just wasn’t fun to read or write about something that was such a great source of frustration. I was gaining weight, terribly stressed at work and was struggling from one injury to the next. I kept trying to find that guy that got lost at Birch Bay, but the further I got from that day, the more impossible it seemed to rediscover myself.

Finally, in December, things started to improve. My right arm was healing so slowly that it was over six months from the injury until I could use my right arm to put on my seat belt. Circulation was very poor, which caused a constant ache in the winter. Oddly enough, it was another bother that seemed to bring me to a place where I could see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. I suffered a stiff neck at work that was so bad that I nearly parked my SUV and laid out on the tarmac at Fairchild. A visit to the chiropractor revealed an unexpected result. The shoulder injury I suffered in June was a torn right bicep tendon! I don’t know if there were other factors involved, or if it was just that, but I was finally able to be treated for something specific.

Fast forward to April 1st and I was released from restrictions and allowed to swim and bike again. On top of that, I was finally free of my job at Fairchild. I would have left at the end of last September, but wanted to make sure Amanda and I were fully covered for our baby in May. With leave (vacation days) built up to last me through the baby’s birth (late May), along with 6 months of transitional insurance, I knew we’d be covered medically and financially as I transition into new work.

The future was looking better, but there was still the Wenatchee Marathon on April 17th. I had been running, but hadn’t been “training.” In all, I put on about 29 pounds on my race weight of 151 pounds. I was barely able to run sub 6:00 pace for 3 miles, a pace I used to be able to handle possibly for 30 miles. Running a marathon seemed like a stupid thing to do, but this is more than just a performance test. It’s something Amanda and I do as a fitness getaway every year near our anniversary. It’s the only race I’ve done every year since it’s beginning. I was the three-time defending champion, won 4 of the event’s five years and on that off year (running easy for Lincoln) I finished 3rd when capable of winning. I had no illusions about winning this year. I just didn’t want to have an ultimate suffer-fest and embarrass myself by barely finishing the thing.

So, with the one talent that an injury (unless it’s a brain injury) can’t take away from me, I put a plan together to have me as ready as could be in 21 days. Actually having the time to run more than a few miles, I went for a 15-miler to see where I was. Unfortunately, I was fried at mile nine. I kept telling myself that the next mile would be my last and I could walk home. I never did walk, but I was going about that fast. I was hurting and barely made it!

Fast forward three weeks and I was at Wenatchee and people were talking about a four-peat. I was too proud to tell them it just wasn’t going to happen. I believed a sub 3-hour was possible, despite not having run over 20 miles once and that pace being faster than all but one recent run over 10 miles. My goal was to lock onto a 6:49, ignore the world and run that pace mile after mile. Unfortunately, I programmed my data fields with the last split pace instead of current split pace, so I had to rely on cumulative race pace, which is a lot less specific about what I’d be doing at the time.

Despite the slowing and constant holding back that takes place early in every marathon, I was running a 6:43 average. It’s not much faster, but if you run a marathon even a couple seconds per mile too fast then you will probably blow up. Very few people even split or negative split their marathons, but it’s something I pride myself on. I figured I was going to ruin my race since my limits were so much more fragile under my current conditions. At mile 6, the 10K runners split off and the leader (2 actually, but I thought it was one) was out of sight. I began the mental battle of telling myself that I could hold for 16 miles since I had done that recently and this was a supported race, not a training run.

At mile 16, Amanda (1 month to due date) and some other guy shortly after told me that I was 3:00 down. I said it was too much and it just wasn’t happening. Then I started to think about the difference between winning and losing. I started to think about my streak. I thought about all the times when I’ve lied to myself for long enough that I won a race instead of giving up.

I can’t be sure, but I think somewhere out there between mile 16 and 18, I found the Michael Bergquist that got lost 14 months ago in Birch Bay. I was charging hard in a race that I respect so much that I treat it with a delicate balance when in much better condition. I was pushing 5 or 6 miles before I normally do, but doing so on a day when I didn’t even know if I could run the entire distance.

Before mile 20, I caught the leader. That three minutes evaporated quickly and I felt like the race was mine to lose. I kept pressing as my goal was to get to mile 22 and then cruise on in. As I approached mile 22 on my tired legs that were ready to ease up and cruise on in, I saw what appeared to be a lead biker (at the bottom of the bridge switch back) with a guy sporting the red marathon bib numbers! Mile 23 was my fastest of the race as I gave chase not knowing if there was enough time to reel this guy in. I caught him before mile 24 as he was cramping terribly, which is usually the end of any quick miles for anyone. As a point of pride, I tried to hold sub 7 pace for mile 24, and made it through 25. Mile 26 was my first over 7 pace, but it was OK, I was safe and managed to run on in to break the tape. My average for what I measured 26.38 was 6:43 for a 2:57:22, the same pace I started out with. My hard charge dropped me below that, but I slowed again.

Since then, I’ve continued to rediscover the athlete that got lost such a long time ago. I’m down 20 pounds, but still 9 pounds over race weight and a lot less lean than the athlete of early 2009. I’m swimming and biking again. My swim improvement for 500m short course is as follows:
April 4th - 8:46
April 12th - 8:00
April 25th – 7:34

I’ve been on my bike a few times, but have only worked up to 12.25 miles. I started out without testing myself, like I did in the swim, but would have been lucky to ride 18 MPH. On my last ride, I went 12.25M at over 20 MPH … barely!

Fitness comes back quickly (you’re right Haley), but I still have a lot of rehab to do on a terribly weak right arm. My bike legs have a long way to go as well. Although I can always seem to calculate the very best my body will do out there on a run, I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do there as well. I was picked up for the Armed Forces Championship Triathlon once again. Swim and run are essential, so I’ll put myself through hell to get ready.

After that, I will be focusing on my marathon. I was left off the National Guard Team due to my lost entry and the guard coordinator deciding to not let me run even though the Lincoln Marathon was going to get me in. That means I will not be on the National Guard Team for the first time in six years, despite being faster than about half of the runners in my current condition. The Air Guard is a part of the USAF, so it’s always a point of contention when the USAF tries to take the top Air Guard runners to compete in the Air Force marathon. Since we both field our own teams, it’s never been fair for them to take our top runners, then compete against us. Well, this year, I will not be one of “us.” I’m really not trying to be spiteful, so much as I am being competitive. I want to show them that they made a mistake in leaving me off the team. I know I’m not an elite, even like some of our local runners; however, I’ve done well enough in the past that free entries and invitations have not been unusual. Someone who is supposed to look out for me, but denies the race my entry only fires me up even more.

It feels a lot more like I’m the Michael Bergquist that got lost at Birch Bay. That’s a refreshing change from the guy who went out there and jogged 3 miles to keep my consecutive running streak alive. It’s now at 2,313 days … and counting. See you out there …

Oh, and a few cool facts that I’ve learned since immersing myself into training again …

Haley Cooper ran a sub 3-hour marathon! Very impressive!

Roger Thompson is still super fit and doing things that I projected for myself, if not even faster!

My friend and first World Military Championship room mate, Tim O’Donnell, is now the 70.3 world champion! I always said his strength was biking, which is negated in ITU racing. 70.3 doesn’t hold the same prestige as the Olympics, which Tim just barely missed the alternate spot for. On the other hand, being world champion at anything, especially a more legitimate triathlon than a draft-legal one, is more impressive in my opinion.