Monday, September 15, 2014

Ironman Wisconsin: Uncovering Truth

I climb into bed, the sharp ache of the effort gone leaving only the emptiness of fatigue throughout my body.  The darkness surrounds me and doubt creeps into my mind.  I break the silence.

Me:  Do you think I'm wasting my time?

Him:  (long pause)  Let me ask you a question.  Is this what you really want? 

Me: Yes, I

Him:  Are you willing to keep working?  

Me:  YES, I 

Him:  Are you tired of it?  Do you have a passion for it or has that worn off?

Me:  No!  I really want it.  I will do anything I have to do.  I knew going into this that it was going to be a 2-3 year process.  I'm OK with that.  But... what if I can't?  What if I never get any stronger on the bike?  

Him:  You will.  But it doesn't matter.  Look at it this way, you don't have to be a Meredith.  You can be a Rinny. You don't have to be the fastest one on the bike.  You have to be as strong as you can possibly be so that you can run to your potential.  That is how you will win.

A quote from my coach's recent public speaking engagement runs through my mind as it does now almost daily.  If you're willing to keep showing up longer, and again and again and again, after everyone else has given up'll get to where you want to go.    

Contemplating the road ahead.

I sit on the rickety spin bike with almost no load on the flywheel.  My legs turn the crank and my calves remind me of the effort 36 hours past.  My Garmin 510 is in my hand and I am flipping through my bike ride for the first time.  I scroll through the splits, divided into 4 neat segments of the 112 mile course.  In my mind I know the truth before my coach has to tell me.  This isn't going to cut it.  If I want to get to Kona one day I am going to have to get stronger on the bike.  I upload the file onto my phone, take a deep breath and email the data to my coach.  Is it wrong that I'm almost embarrassed to send her this information?  I am relying on her to help me get stronger, but having no prior power data to speak of, this is my first test.  And I feel like I've failed.  I know this is a stepping stone, and I keep reminding myself this is a process.  I cannot be impatient.  I have to be present every moment.  Do the work.  Keep chipping away at the proverbial rock.  Never give up.

Reenactment of the proposal.

5 years ago we got engaged at this finish line.

She calls me in the afternoon to deconstruct.  I have been napping and now we're getting ready for dinner.  We talk about the positives from the race.  I tell her it probably didn't look like anything special on paper, but there was a lot of good stuff.  I felt super strong in the swim.  I had an opportunity right at the beginning, literally 5 minutes before the gun, to affirm my commitment to my plan.  He wanted me to line up closer to the buoy.  You're strong, swim with the main pack.  No, I said.  I have to stick with my plan.  I lined up far right to avoid the pack and a subsequent panic attack in the first 200 meters.  My plan worked, I had smooth sailing all the way to the first turn buoy which I reached with the front pack.  

I admitted, the bike ride crushed me.  So many people passed me in the first loop like I was standing still.  I felt like I maintained my effort and kept my pace consistent for the second loop, but I was hurting.  I definitely felt the effort.  But, I didn't get negative and stayed present.  I would not let my mind turn on me.  I remained positive and though I cursed at those shitty, rutted farm roads MANY times, I didn't let the thoughts remain.  I verbalized, took a deep breath, and pedaled on.  We confirmed that I need to take in more calories on the bike, but now that we know what works, we can up the intake.

I fought back on the run.  Despite a bad patch in the middle, I fought back and finished my final 10k strong.  This was a first.  Generally once I've fallen off, my pace continues to slide.  But I was using this race as practice.  Even though I knew my pace was well below the leaders in my age group, I still used other athletes on course to work off of.  I didn't want them passing me.  I fought to stay with them when they did.  This is important work for my progress as an athlete and necessary for me to see that I CAN make myself run hard even when it doesn't feel good.  This was my most important piece of the puzzle.

140.6 miles:  11 hours, 49 minutes, 45 seconds

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Finish

26.2 mile run:  4 hours, 24 minutes, 59 seconds.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Finish Chute

Mile 139.9.  The guy I've been back and forth with all day catches up to me again on State Street.  We congratulate each other briefly as he passes me on the way to the finish line.  He's a graduate student in physics at the University of Wisconsin.  His fiance is on the east coast and couldn't be here to see him finish his first Ironman.  His friends are here and he is in good form.  He'll be fine.  I climb the final hill to the capital.  I make the final lap around the capital listening to Mike Reilly's voice.  When I hear my name, I raise my arms in victory and smile for what feels like the first time all day.  I smile in relief because I'm done and I can stop running now.

Mile 133.4.  I'm walking up the hill at Observatory Drive.  In one hand I have a cup of salty potato chips.  In the other hand I have a double shot of Coke.  I keep telling myself, the race starts at mile 20 of the marathon.  I have to pick it back up.  I had been running strong for the first half, but somewhere along the way my energy dipped.  I have been trying to get back in front of my calories now for several miles.  This is it.  There's another girl in Smashfest coming the other way.  I will not let her pass me.  I pick up my pace a little bit and force my aching legs into the effort.  At every aid station I grab a little bit of calories.  Another Honey Stinger gel.  A cup of Coke.  Perform.  Chicken broth.  Keep the fluids coming.  Pretty soon, my legs begin to respond and recognize my pace.  It hurts just a little bit less and I pick it up a little bit more.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Run Course

Mile 128.4.  I'm heading toward the Camp Randall Stadium for the second time.  I'm still feeling good but not quite the same as my first 8 miles.  My mind knows I'm too far off pace but this is my opportunity to practice racing.  I keep running.  I see him coming from the other direction.  He doesn't look good.  He's wobbly and staggers a little bit to my side of the road.  He's been puking for hours.  I tell him there's an aid station around the corner.  Go there, rest, and get some calories and fluids.  He tells me he's dropping out.  I keep running.

Mile 120.4.  My mind and my body are reeling.  I have zero recollection of hills on this run course.  I feel like I've been slapped in the face.  A rude awakening.  With the gradual climb through the neighborhood, and the several steeper climbs, I am feeling every ounce of effort.  I stick to my plan taking in gel at regular intervals and water at every aid station.  My stomach has been solid all day affirming that my new hydration/ nutrition plan on the bike works.  But why didn't I remember these hills?

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Run Course

T2.  I'm so happy to be off the bike.  I can't wait to start running.  I dump the contents of my  transition bag on the floor.  I slip into my running shoes, grab my race belt and visor and run out the door.  2 minutes 9 seconds.

112 mile bike:  6 hours, 17 minutes, 3 seconds.

Mile 82.4.  Almost there, almost there, almost there.  I keep telling myself this so that I don't lose focus.  I am counting down the miles till I'm back on the stick heading toward the finish.  The roads on the course are brutal.  Jarring.  My body is trashed from bracing against every pothole and rut in the road.  My bike feels like it's falling to pieces.  My xlab has completely slipped, that happened in the first 20 miles.  My derailleur which was nice and quiet at the beginning of the ride now resists changing gears and is making a lot of noise with the effort.  There are still people passing me, just not as fast now.  And I am passing a few people back.  That feels pretty good.  My energy levels are stable.  My mind is clear and focused.  I am getting this done.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Bike Course

Mile 32.4.  I can't think about how far I have left to go.  I have to stay in the moment.  One down side of being a good swimmer and an average cyclist is that I am literally getting passed by everyone.  I take a deep breath and keep going.  I have to race my race.  Keep my head in the game.  My watch beeps to remind me when to eat.  I stick to my plan.

T1.  I swam under an hour.  I swam under an hour!  Confirming my progress wasn't a fluke, and sticking with my plan at the start line was the right decision.  I swam under an hour.  How long is this freaking transition?  I am spinning up the helix and into the change tent.  The volunteer is trying to be all calm and taking her time.  I throw my bag on the floor, not even bothering to sit down.  I strap my helmet on, grab my shoes and sunglasses and run out the exit.  I holler thanks! over my shoulder as the volunteer is explaining how she'll pack up everything for me.  I'm gone before she can finish her thought.   5 minutes 40 seconds.

2.4 mile swim:  59 minutes, 54 seconds.

Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Swim Exit

Mile 1.9.  I am going nowhere.  Am I going nowhere?  Why do I feel like I'm swimming in place?  Since making the final turn toward shore I have hit some type of current and literally am swimming upstream.  I kick a little harder.  I try to pick up my turnover.  I can see the exit I just don't feel like I am getting any closer.

Mile 0.8.  This is freaking awesome!  I look to my left as I breathe and I am with the front pack as I converge with them on the first turn buoy.  I feel fantastic.  So strong.  My turnover is perfect, I am swimming a straight line.  Is it possible to get a runner's high while swimming?

Mile 0.0.  The national anthem is playing.  We have 5 minutes till the start.  He encourages me to move closer to the actual start buoy.  Swim with the main pack.  You're a strong swimmer.  I shake my head.  I think back to Texas.  I don't have time to explain all the thoughts running through my head right now.  There's no time.  I have to stick to my plan.  *BOOM*  The cannon sounds.

T minus 3 hours.  My alarm beeps.  It's race day.  

The capitol building in Madison, WI.  Backdrop for the IM Moo finish.



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