It’s taken me a lot of time to sit and sift through my thoughts about this race. I had a hard time wrapping my head around what happened and how I wanted and needed to react to it.
The lead up to race day was not what I anticipated when I signed up. I knew that IM Texas was not my A race, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to perform my best. Between 70.3 Texas and IM Texas my life, well, it fell apart a bit. Things happened and I wasn’t able to get in as much quality training as I would have liked. In fact I didn’t do a workout for two weeks immediately following the half (there are like 6 weeks between them, so, kind of a big deal). I had more bad long bike rides than good ones, and I think the stress level plus not great eating made me feel heavy and bloated.
I spent the week before the race really thinking hard about my mental game and I knew I was exhausted from everything else. I was worried a bit in my ability to persevere when it hurt and when giving up was the easy thing to do. I knew I could do it, but I was wondered what would come out when I was deep in the dark.
Everything leading up to race daywas good. I love when Susan comes to work the event and we get to have dinner with her. It’s a good time where we can relax and enjoy seeing each other. Much needed time away from thinking about race day.
Doing Texas before made for a much easier time the second time around. We knew where to park, how long the walks were and everything in between. We got up early, ate our breakfasts and headed to transition to get everything set up. A quick setup and we were off to the start. The lines were stupid long this year and I barely got to go to the bathroom and get my wetsuit on and get in the water before the gun went off. Like I was literally in the water for under 60 seconds. Here’s hoping I don’t do that again!
Due to the race being wetsuit legal it felt a little more crowded this year, but I didn’t feel as beat-up as last year. Settled into a good rhythm and just pushed comfortably. Ended up getting a lot of air in somehow and had some side stitches in the water followed by some burping (never a good sign, and first time during a race they came up, and would haunt me all day.) I normally breathe every stroke in a long race like this, but felt more comfortable every 3 and just settled in. The canal this year was more crowded and I honestly didn’t even kick for most of it and just pulled my way through – made much easier by the wetsuit keeping the legs up.
Existed the water with like a 6 min PR and headed to the bike! First time in a changing tent I honestly didn’t have anyone to help me. Sort of weird. Not tons of people in there but I did my duties, sprayed myself down with sunscreen (Neutrogena Wet is stupid awesome on race day and lasts.) I was so happy to be on my bike! I immediately started drinking and getting comfortable on my bike. I felt really good out there. I kept checking in – can I do this for x amount of miles more? If the answer was no I did my best (tried) to slow down a bit. Did good on getting the fluids in, struggled a bit with consistent nutrition. I started to feel a bit flat and just struggled as soon as we hit the national forest. Stomach started getting cranky with everything. Eventually I caved and picked up a perform and drank that slowly and it brought me back to life. But out there on 20 miles of soul crushing chip seal and headwind I went to die.
I pushed hard with all my might those last 15 miles. I just really wanted to come in close to last year’s time (honestly the bike ride felt MUCH harder this year with the wind than last year with the heat.) I do well with short little rollers and long straight stretches and ended up passing some people pretty handily during that last section.
I wasn’t very nice to myself out there. In fact, I got downright mean pretty early on in the bike and that attitude carried me throughout the day. I’ve never been like that for a race. I’m usually negotiating, checking in and motivating myself forward. This race there were no positive thoughts. Only thoughts of how awful I was doing, how I was letting myself down, that I sucked and didn’t deserve all the praise I was getting on the course. I was in a very, very dark place and had a hard time seeing the light.
One of the lights I did see was a little boy who wouldn’t have been more than 10 in the last 10 miles of the bike course. He was on the side of the road randomly with his family and they were all set up with their chairs and such. He was standing and cheering for all of us. He looked square at me and told me that he believed in me. I got chills and almost broke down into tears. This little boy, who didn’t know me, and didn’t know what was going on inside my head believed in me. Maybe I should, too?
I even had thoughts of throwing in the towel once I was done with the bike. I wasn’t having fun out there and I didn’t feel like I was performing well (despite the fact that however small I technically PR’ed everything in the IM, including transitions.) The thought of my friends who came down specifically to support Brian and I kept me going. Knowing that Jill and Suzanne were out there to support me and that Team Stringer was so excited to see us kept me moving forward. If you are reading this I don’t think you can understand the impact you had on me for being out there that day. You couldn’t possibly have known how hard of a day I was having, and that you were my light at the end of the tunnel out there. I will forever be grateful to you for that.
So I hit transition and quickly got everything I needed (the lady who helped me in T2 was beyond fantastic) and headed out. I didn’t feel great, at all. In fact I felt like poo, total and complete poo (does that mean I rode right? ha!) and the first few miles were really tough. I was exited to see a bunch of friends after the first aid station (Shara, Sarah, Ann, Chris and Andrew’s family) who really helped lift my spirits during the first part of the run. I just went back to one foot in front of the other. I kept my pace even and tried to only walk the aid stations for as long as I could.
During this time I couldn’t really stomach much but a bit of water and perform. So I dumped what I had in my handheld and kept it full of water. Used the 8oz Nathan bottle and kept it between my shoulder blades per usual racing and it performed beautifully again. I told myself no magic coke until at least lap two, ironically enough when I did take coke for the first time it didn’t sit well so I would only take a handful of times and very little. Some races coke is the cure all and others it’s not, that day perform was what my stomach wanted. Just kept pushing forward and jogging (I’m not sure what I was doing qualifies as running but I was moving forward.)
I really loved seeing Kristi out there (and demanded a sweaty hug on course, I think you might actually be my Ironman support buddy, ha!) and running into Ron who had an awesome swim and bike but had a calf injury force him to walk the run. Without that Ron would have kicked the crap outta me this year – I’m sort of afraid of the beat-down that is going to come in AZ… Seeing them on the course lifted my spirits at the end of loop 2 and beginning of loop 3.
After the first aid station on loop 3 Sonja popped up around a corner and nailed me walking. I got a stern talking to about getting moving and walking only the aid stations. Come a few miles later at an aid station I was walking through and she popped up and told me again to walk faster then get moving. I actually had someone around me ask if that was my coach (she was very tough love, which I needed at that moment), I said that she wasn’t my coach but was a friend and a great coach to have. At that point she waited for me at the end of the station and made sure I got running again. From that point on for the rest of the race I ran scared, because I was afraid of walking and having Sonja pop up again. Seriously. I’m a grown woman and I was scared of getting caught walking – talk about some motivation. For that I will forever be thankful she was there to give me the tough love I needed.
I also was pretty hard on myself during the run, too. Lots of negativity about how awful I am and that I couldn’t believe how slow I was. Keep in mind I really didn’t know overall how I was doing. I knew I had PR’ed the swim and come close to last years time on the bike, what I didn’t know is really how I was doing on the run. Right before I came back onto the waterway for the last few miles of the run there was a guy on his second loop who asked about the actual time and time cutoffs, he was worried about making it. I switched my watch over to time of day to help him calculate it (I was pretty confident with the way he was moving he would make it) but I also realized that with the actual time of day, if I kept moving I could PR overall.
All of a sudden I realized how awful I was being (I didn’t really know at the time) and those last several miles became a battle of how much I wanted a PR. It was hard and yes I cheated and walked briefly twice, but I pushed through with a purpose: a purpose to finish.
I remember making the turn to the finish instead of another loop (thank god) and Eminem was playing. It was so fitting for me. I love rocking out to Eminem when I do listen to music and it was full circle to finishing to him. I was so happy to be finished. Susan was there and took great care of me – I found a sneaky place to sit because apparently Brian was a bit behind me but not super far. He had a very rough nutrition day and pushing through. This way I could still be there when he finished.
I was amazed, I thought for sure someone was going to tell me to move (I was sitting on a bunch of boxes) and eventually one volunteer came over and asked if I needed anything! Ha! I told her the boxes were a godsend and that I was just waiting for my husband to finish, she said to let her know if I needed anything and left me with Susan and Jason. Brian crossed and we made our way through the food tents and grabbed out bags. Thank god the Ironman store was still open and let us use their changing rooms. There is no greater feeling after an Ironman than getting your kit off – I don’t care how comfortable it was during race day, I want the thing off.
Back to the course for a bit and the rest of the night was spent at the finish line with Team Stringer. The finish line is the best those last few hours. I danced a bit (still not sure how) but had a blast cheering those on who were still finishing. Such a special place at midnight, and I still don’t know how Mike Reilly does it.
Lessons learned? I can pace like a mo-fo. That Ironman run was pretty perfectly paced – the pace I started with is the pace I finished with. I was stupid consistent over the course of the marathon. I may not have been happy with what that pace was, but I was smart on race day and did the best day that I could on that day with my training conditions. Does that sting a bit? Absolutely. I know I’m faster somewhere down inside of me. I know that. And it lit a bit of a fire in my belly to push it out. To work hard for the next now 5 months to really dig and pull out what I can.
Ironically the most fit I had felt in months was the day after Ironman. Yes, I was tired and beat up, but I felt fit and healthy and strong. I will also keep that with me, tucked inside: Ironman makes me strong.
Do I have some mental work to do? Hell yes I do. More than I thought. I broke down and I let the dark win. You bet your ass that won’t be happening in Arizona. I am working to fight for every last inch of that race and really work hard to overcome the negative that I found in Texas. I didn’t have a bad performance day, I had a bad mental day.
Now that I’ve stepped back, I can appreciate a bit more of how I did. It took me weeks and weeks and weeks of really being down on myself to accept that I had a great day for where I was fitness wise. Let’s be honest it’s a true testament to Mary and her ability to adapt that got me across that finish line in one piece. And for that, I am thankful to her. For being a hell of a wingman and really letting me find my way back to enjoying this sport from December to today. She’s allowed me to find my joy again, and with that, came a bit of fire in my belly. Watch out world, we’re here to accomplish great things.