Race Coverage

Beware of the Pool and the Bike...


By Jason Erdahl


It’s 1:20a and my heart is too full to sleep.

My body is battered but not broken. Today I am an Ironman.

On June 3rd at mile 90 or so of the FANS 24 hour race I broke my foot and my mind reeled with thoughts of a lost year. I sat through the FANS awards ceremony in shock, fighting back the tears (unsuccessfully) for my lost year while everyone was congratulating me on my “finish” and all I wanted to do was scream at them that the only “finish” was for my year. No running. No companionship that comes with running. No fitness. A return of the 100 pounds that I worked so hard to lose. I was completely shattered. I left the awards ceremony early so I could put my “brave face” away.

When the MRI confirmed what I feared, I put on that brave face on as the kind nurse secured the boot on my foot and the doctor talked about the next 6-8 weeks. I thought about how bravely my friends had faced their running injuries and desperately searched for something I could do.

A great friend loaned me a run buoy so I could run in the pool and I reached my absolute lowest point: it hurt to do this, and the doc warned if it hurt, I couldn’t do it. Even this one simple thing was beyond me. Out of frustration I went to lane 1 and started swimming laps. Oh, if I only knew then what this simple decision would bring me to....


It felt GREAT. It was a revelation. For the first time in 30 years I was swimming laps and it didn’t hurt. I ran out (well, I had a boot so it was more of a shuffle) and bought a swim buoy (so I could swim without kicking, which hurt) and some goggles and started swimming. Within a week I could swim for 1,000 yards and an idea started to sprout in my mind: my cycling shoes (on the bike that had been gathering dust for 4 years) had a solid bottom and prevented the bending of my foot. I imagined that the doc might have said something about cycling (it’s theoretically possible) and successfully found those cycling shoes. I put some oil on that chain and went out for an 8 mile ride.

It didn’t hurt. Praise God, it didn’t hurt!!! The calendar lay before me in my mind and I started calculating. On my way up to cheer on my teammates and friends at Grandma’s Marathon I started doing “recovery math” and doing some google searching. At dinner after the race I shared an idea with my conspirator and the best support person ever,  Betsy Swartout: Ironman Louisville.

jaytrans.pngI already had a GREAT running coach,  Ron Byland, and I knew that if anyone could get my marathon reading on short mileage it would be him so I started reaching out to get some help on the other two sports. The key to all of this was the greatest connector in the Twin Cities:  Wharton Hunt, or as I like to call him: Lang. Lang gave me SO much great advice and has been my sherpa in this Tri world. He connected me to  Jan Guenther  and her great team at Gear West and then to  Mary Deeg. Mary taught me great things about cycling, including the best way to get "free speed" and connected me to Triathlon coach extraordinaire  Anthony Jagielo  and things started moving fast. Frankly, I was amazed he took a chance on me, as I was still 3-5 weeks away from getting my boot off. What an amazing coach and friend!

I joined the Gear West rides and the Gear West Open Water swim classes and Wednesday morning swims. The entire cycling and tri community in the Twin Cities is SO welcoming, and I’ve made many great new friends, including the great folks at  Team OutPace  and  Gear West Tri ClubAmazingly, my running group  Mile To Marathon Running Club  did not foresake me as I was “on the IR list” though I think several of the new members saw me in a boot cheering them on at races and wondered who the heck I was!  :-)

Betsy and I did a half Ironman relay in late July (I still couldn’t run, so she suffered through the half marathon in the heat) and it was SO FUN! I did an olympic length tri on August 18th and although I walked as much as I ran the 10k, the confidence started to build. After one more check with my PT and wife I signed up for Louisville.

About a month ago I was able to start running again, and prayed that the compacted schedule would allow me to finish 26.2 miles.

The Ironman was everything I had heard about and more. It completely blew me away. The volunteers and staff were so kind and helpful and before I knew it, it was time to race.

It rained all day, but honestly it wasn’t that bad. I know that sounds weird, but we’d been training in 50 degrees and rain throughout September, and I knew how to dress for it. Plus, all the big events in my life: my first date with Kris, my second date with Kris, my wedding day to Kris, my first marathon, and so on all had rain, so it was fitting that it would rain all day.

I had set out a plan to enjoy every moment, going at 80% throughout the day, and treating it like a long training day and it REALLY paid off. I was able to enjoy the craziness of swimming in a river with a crazy current, I was able to enjoy the rolling hills of Kentucky and the gorgeous estates and the great crowds in the small towns along the way. I was most concerned with a tech fail of my bike leading to a DNF, so I checked with each person on the side of the road to see if they needed help. I was able to stop for about 10 minutes and give a tool and a tube and some words of encouragement to one guy, and my bike held up like a CHAMP all day.

The run was possible through divine intervention. Within 2 miles of the run my old back injury from my teenage years was back with a passion, causing my entire lower back to tighten up and I had images of walking the entire marathon. I started to get discouraged for the first time and started praying for a kid named Zeke that a guy I met in the changing tents told me about. He was getting a kidney transplant. I turned my head toward the heavens (and the rain) and that’s when it happened: the pain went away. I can’t make this stuff up. When I ran with my head looking forward, the back pain came back after about a quarter mile and when it did I would turn my eyes toward the heavens until it went away. I started thinking of the Casting Crown song lyrics “…I lift my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…” I knew that I would finish the marathon.

jay_finish.pngOutside of walks every mile to get some bone broth, I ran the entire marathon. It wasn’t my BQ pace, but it was faster than my normal ultramarathon pace. I was going to finish.

I had planned a pose at the finish line but I was WAY too overcome with emotion and I just lifted my eyes up unto the heavens one more time, and I guess from the photos my arms followed my eyes, but honestly I don't remember much as there were so many people and it was SO BRIGHT.  :-)13 hours and 15 minutes. Wow, it seems like there were days of memories packed in those 13 hours.

There are too many people to thank, SO many words of encouragement and support and I just know that I’ll miss someone, so I’ll be thanking you all in person WAY too many times in the future. I do have to pause and thank the person who has worked the HARDEST for all of this to happen:  Kris Erdahl. As so many of you know, it’s the spouse of the athlete that takes the brunt of any training, and is also the #1 supporter and fan. In the middle of her meteoric rise in her new career and her MBA classes and being a great mom and wife, she’s always there for me. I could not do any of this without her. Thank you, my love.

What’s next? Well, it’s 2:30a now, so I hope sleep. FANS next year, obviously, and I hear that they run an Ironman event in Madison, Wisconsin, where so many of my friends and family live.  :-)  Oh, and I met this guy named Chet while we were waiting our turn to jump in the river and he told me about a race he did in 2016 that maybe - JUST MAYBE - I could get ready for by 2020…

Thank you all for joining me on this journey and as I recommended just a couple hours ago to a running friend of mine who’s recovering from an injury: beware the pool and the bike - it’s a slippery slope...


+1 #1 Lang 2018-10-25 13:49
Congratulations on such an incredible year Jay! Finishing an Ironman is over the top but to do all of the training for it with a broken foot a few months after running 106 miles----truly incredible!! Thank you Minnesota Tri News for telling Jay's story. You're inspiring us to reach for greatness!

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