July 18, 2024
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July 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I was at mile 62, enjoying a free return when the worst possible problem kicked in: bi-lateral quad cramps!

Both thigh muscles seemed to magically inflate and I rushed to unclip my right foot before I crashed my bike. Muscle spasms or cramps as they are called are incredibly painful. Even more painful was trying to just bend my leg a little to try pedaling again. I couldn’t get my feet clipped back onto my bike pedals; It just hurt too much. If I couldn’t start pedaling again when the free return ended, my race would be over. I had faced failure before on the triathlon racecourse and always found a way to complete the race before the time had expired. Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard once told a story of his father’s words, “You are like a cat, you always land on your feet.” That may be true for him, but it appeared that I had run out of my nine lives. It was time to call my wife and tell her my race was over. It was time to tell my kids that there would be no finish line celebration. It was time to tell my 90-year-old father who always waits up late until I finished, that I had failed.

How was I going to tell my father, who has always believed in me, that I couldn’t do it. How was I going to explain why I couldn’t find a way to finish this race, this Ironman, that I have always persevered in… and then I heard my father’s voice in my head: “FIGURE IT OUT!”

Ok, refocus Dave. What do I have at my disposal?

I have water.

(Good, what else?)

Powerade for electrolytes.

(What else? Common…)


(Yes you do.)

Salt can relax cramping. I pulled the pinky size vile from my back pocket and took a lick. I took another like, then a sip of water and then another lick.

(This will take time to work. You are going to run out of road before that happens.)

I started bending my swollen leg. I have never broken a leg, but I imagined this is what it felt like when my friend Arin Lipman had to start bending his legs again after being cast for breaking his femur as a child.

Every degree that I forced sent throbbing pain up from my kneecaps to my hips. I had to take a few deep breaths and I had to remind myself to let them out … but I bent my right leg enough to clip my shoes back into the bike pedals. It was one thing to bend them, it was going to be another thing entirely to pedal.

Every rotation hurt, but after a few minutes the pain began to subside. I could still feel the tightness.

I still had 51 miles to go over one and half rotation on the bike course. I could “granny” it down to my easiest gears and hope nothing cramped up again. The good news was, I only had one more climb to pedal through to complete the second of three loops.

I went flying down the hill and began the climb back up.

(The same hill?)

The same. I felt the cramp creeping up again like an old car that was about to stop working.

“Come on, almost there,” I told myself as I inched up the hill.

Pedaling faster would get me out of the danger of cramping again sooner, but with a greater chance of a cramp. Going slower was less of a risk of cramping, but more of a chance of needing a rest due to fatigue.

(So? Rest.)

But that would mean more muscle strength to restart the climb.

(With a greater chance of cramping again.)

I reached the top of the hill and jumped off my bike as a cramp flared up.

(Why jump off?)

Had I been riding up the hill and with a cramp, I would have fallen over.

“Are you ok?” asked a spectator.

“Just a leg cramp.”

“Lay down and stretch it out.”

(Good advice, no?)

I could have, but I chose to get back on my bike.


I was now 2.5 miles from the end of loop two and I knew that this was 2.5 miles of “free return.” (So, you made it?)

I reached the end of loop two, but I still had a third loop to complete. I wasn’t out of the woods just yet.

The motto of Iroman is “Anything is possible.”

While many take this as inspiration to reach for the unimaginable, it does not always mean a positive outcome is waiting for you down the road.

David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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