Sunday, November 29, 2009
It is Done!
I have just finished my third Ironman race. Racing Ironman is such a passion of mine and not long ago I was not certain that I would be able to do it again. For a while I thought that it was time for a new focus and career. Then the new career was taken away and I felt so lost. I assumed then that I was to return to a focus on racing. No sooner than I felt some certainty with that realization, then my back gave out on me and I was staring down the barrel of a spinal fusion. I had been told my many doctors that when I got to that point my running days were over. Running being an important part of racing Ironman, I was disappointed, frightened and lost again. Thankfully, a series of events led me to a few angels that would repair the damage and get me back to running. I have heard it told that coincidence is God’s way of maintaining anonymity. All I know is that all signs kept pointing to the fact that there is a reason for me to stay in the Ironman fold. I am of the belief that all things happen for a reason and my job is to show up to what is in front of me and strive to be at potential as much as possible. So the journey back to Ironman began.
18 months of first walking, then easing back to swimming, back on the bike, running, training and racing made me strong and ready to toe the Ironman line once again. All the time I have had this unwavering feeling that there is a greater purpose for me to be back to racing Ironman. I must say that at this point, I am not quite sure what all is involved in this reason; I just know there is one.
So my sweet 9-year-old daughter and I set of for a 14-hour drive to Tempe for the race. We had a great time, lots of good music and she kept me centered. Our rental house was perfect and over a few days everyone else arrived. I was able to get in a pre- race massage and felt calm most of the time. I purposefully avoided riding or running on the course. I didn’t even drive the course, as this has proved really successful for me lately. No chance to set up any negative anchors. I did swim every day to adjust to the cold water and wetsuit. Even with that I just took things really easy. I kept hearing Peter Reid in my head talking about how athletes “Pin it” the week of the race. So I mostly stayed off my feet. The day before the race I felt almost bored and ready to get things going.
I got up after trying my best to sleep. I ate my usual oatmeal and finally had caffeine. I think I was looking forward to that as much as the race as I had been off of it for 3 months. Then my “Sherpa” friend Allyson (just the best for coming out!) took me to the race. I still felt really calm. Once I got to transition, the urge to cry just kept creeping up. “I can’t believe I am here” coupled by “ this feels really familiar” and “ Geeze I am cold” were the thoughts of the morning. I know I was nervous because I felt like I had early onset Alzheimer’s with trying to remember all the last minute preps. When I would go over to see my family the emotions really got the best of me so I had to be careful with that one. I know they all sacrificed so much for me to be there and I just wanted to make them proud. I decided to wear my old Newton’s all the way down to the swim start to keep my feet warm as long as possible. Hopefully someone will get something out of that donation as those shoes did so much for me! Mike Reilly told us to get in and I debated waiting, but in the end decided the more time I had to adjust and get in position the better. I had been nervous about the swim start, but once the gun went off things went just fine. The usual “slug-fest” seemed to be calmer than I remembered and I just followed Coach Susan’s instructions to keep the arms in front and worry about form once things clear out. About 500 meters in the swim, I looked for clear water and realize that when I got there I was out of the “train”. I decided that I was hanging with the train just fine and best to be “pulled” along rather than being passed over so I got right back in the pack. I was shocked to have the “washing machine” really pick up at the end! I must have been kicked in the face 4 times in the last 300 meters and swam over once! A quick elbow to the ribs helped my fellow competitor find his OWN line and leave mine alone. When I got out I was beyond thrilled to see that I had met my goal time and a four-minute personal record!
On my way to three loops of the bike. Since I had not previewed the course, everything on the first loop was new. I noticed almost no wind and was curious to see how this loop would go. I started on my nutrition immediately. Every 15 minutes I would take from my nutrition water bottle of Infinit and Carbo Gain. Every 45 minutes I would take a quarter of my peanut butter and honey sandwich. In between those time frames I would drink from my aero bottle of water. The first loop went really well. Yes, giant packs went past me. While I think that lots of energy can be wasted on drafting conversations, the reality for me is when there are so many athletes on the course and a good portion of them with similar abilities, packs will form. Also, the experience of Ironman is one that is life changing and therefore I understand opening it up to as many as possible. So I decided to stay as true to myself as possible. As we started on our second lap, the wind had picked up dramatically. Now this is the wind that I was nervously anticipating. Right into our faces as we took the gradual hill all the way up. I found my confidence and focus slip a bit. I kept trying to find the sweet gear. Finally, I reach the turn around to have the wind at my back. Nice! I even ran out of gear, but was well aware that I was not making up time lost on the way up. During the entire second loop, I just kept telling myself “ you only have to do this one more time”. Near the end of the second loop I realize that the flags are starting to blow the other way and that I am feeling a bit of wind in my face. I hit the turn around and head out for the third loop. Slight tail wind and I am trying to find some speed while staying in myself. The mental calculations begin and I know that I have some work cut out for me to hit my goal. In hindsight, my goal was a bit too generous and I will have to adjust that for the next time. About 6 miles from the turn around I hear someone say “ Dawn Monroe- Elder”. Now hearing my maiden name while in no man’s land was a bit shocking and I immediately knew that only one person would be using that name – Steve, my buddy from Facebook! Wow, a friend on the course whom I had been following all year! Now I was just thrilled to have some company as well as to meet the person I had only known in cyber world! We finish up the loop only losing touch near the end. We had gotten caught up in a group and that was difficult to get away from while riding pace. The trick then is to stay legal as possible and get to T2. I finish the bike in 5:45! That was exactly what I had wanted although as I said before that was too conservative.
I came out of transition really quick thanks to fantastic volunteers. I opted to run with my Fuel Belt with Infinit in it. While I felt like I had a good pace my Garmin was showing slowing with every mile. Ok, stay calm and let the legs settle in to the run. I was taking Gatorade at each aid station and thinking about form. On the back end of the first loop headed back to the start of the second loop, I saw Hillary Biscay. Now for anyone who knows me, Hillary is one of those professional athletes that just speaks to me. She has a fortitude that I truly admire. Seeing her brought up all kinds of emotions that I needed to choke back to continue. Something about being on the edge like that can bring up all sorts of emotions and it never ceases to amaze me. Once again, got to learn to focus a bit more. As I came in for my second loop I was in damage control. All I could think about was I wanted a nap. I was not tired so much as I was sleepy. I started trying to get caffeine everywhere I could. I went for my caffeinated gels, tried the coke begged for salt, took the Gatorade and waited for the storm to pass. At this point, I just kept moving forward. Seeing my family at each loop helped. I missed the special needs for the second loop and that really made me have to revamp the plan. By the end of the second loop I could do the math and I knew that the original goal of a 3:50 marathon was not going to happen. I worked the second goal of a sub 11 hour Ironman. Somewhere after the start of the 3 lap my run legs showed up. Hmmm where were you an hour ago? Oh well let’s work it. Once they came around, I felt good and in a good rhythm. I knew it would be close, but I was on a mission to finish strong. As I came around to the finish line I saw the clock and realized that while I was off on the original goal, I was going to have a huge personal record. My finish time was 11:05. 22 minutes of my best Ironman time. Of course, I fell apart at the finish so thrilled to once again have had the chance to really meet myself.
I am so grateful for the opportunity that Ironman affords each and every person be it competitor or spectator. We all get to experience the human spirit and few places in daily life provide that gift. Once again I was able to see who I am and make choices of the kind of person I want to be. Once again, I came face to face with my greatest fears and swam, rode and ran right with them. Once again, my mind amazed me. Once again, I became overwhelmed with gratitude for Dr. V and the gift of my body back, my family and the gift of love and support and my friends and the gift of camaraderie, love and encouragement.
18 months ago I didn’t know if I would ever be able to have this experience. 18 months ago I wondered who I would be if I never raced Ironman again. In that time, I realized that Ironman is what I do, not who I am. It is the route I chose to take to be more of me. It is the road I take to practice life and come away with a few more tools to get the most out of the time I am here. It is how I get to be who I want to be.
What is next? Ironman. I am giving myself one week to decide. I am not finished by a long shot of living this way dancing with my greatest fears and greatest joys. My birthday gift to myself may just be Ironman St. George.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
It is one thing to set a goal, it is another thing entirely to own it. I have learned in the process of Ironman that there is always an opportunity to have a life lesson experienced during racing or training. Paying attention is paramount is making the experience be more than just endless miles and suffering. As the training intensifies so does the resolve and pain.
I was running 18 miles today following a very hard 90 mile ride yesterdays. The legs, while showing up to do the job, were complaining the entire time. As fatigue set in, form took more of an effort. I noticed that when I let my form go, I started to look just about 3 feet in front of me. Head was down and the shoulders were slumped and the pace slowed. I did realize that when my head was up, eyes focused on the horizon and shoulders back, I ran faster. I became aware that this is such a perfect metaphor for life.
So often we tend to only focus with where we are at any given time. When we do that we become victim to only our circumstances. We also tend to miss opportunities coming up or obstacles that could be avoided. Getting bogged down by life is much easier when all we see is right where we are.
Keeping our eyes on the horizon makes all the difference. We can take advantage of opportunities. We can avoid pitfalls because we see them coming. We know where we are going. The pace of life quickens and suddenly life seems manageable.
There will always be hurdles to deal with in life. There will always be short cuts and chances to skip out on the hard stuff. It is in the hard stuff though that makes us strong. It is in the hard stuff that we find out who we are. It is in the hard stuff that resolve is solidified. It is in the hard stuff that dreams can come true! Here is keeping an eye on the horizon and taking life by the hand!
Sunday, May 31, 2009
The big comeback
Funny how I think it is human nature to be able to measure. We seem to need to know the starting point, the length traveled, the time traveled and the end point. Even when we say that we are “in the moment” we still seem to know how long we stay in that moment. So it is with me as well. From the last race to the next, how long is recovery from surgery, when can I start training, how far can I go, when is the next race, what time do I need, what time do I want to feel successful, how long to recover from that race to the next.
I decided from the realization that my body was going to need some help that I would take each measurement seriously. I would commit to what each expert told me. I had, after all gotten the best team and made sure we were all on the same page so I could trust what every one said. I also decided to define what would be success with each step. The first was getting through the surgery. Success would be no complications. While a there was a little surprise, no other problems came up so success. Next, getting through the first week. I was allowed to walk so I decided to make each walk with some goal in mind. The first week is to increase the walk by a few minutes each time. While some days were harder than others, goal reached. Also getting my body to get over the affects of anesthesia and pain medication seemed to be a major accomplishment.
Once back home, I realized I needed a plan. I had been living the past five years by a well defined plan each day. Every day I knew if I was running, biking, swimming and how far or how long. I organized the rest of the family needs around that plan. I decided to keep that time open for training only now my training looked much different. I still followed protocal for endurance sport. So I would walk. First, started with 30 minutes. Success. Each week I added 10 minutes to one of the walks. Success. I worked my way up to an hour, then two and finally three. Success. In each walk, I tried to find the littlest challenge and then celebrate each small victory. I did all the prescribed stretching and rehabilitation exercise. The time then came to set a goal.
With permission from the doctors, I set a goal to walk a half marathon. I could have made this hard as I RUN marathons. Instead, I stayed thankful that I was moving and certain that I would find joy in whatever I could do. Then I got permission to jog a few minutes with the promise to stop if pain came up and for only 5 minutes at a time. Success! I had made it to the next phase of recovery. I decided to stay grateful for what I could do and certain that more would be revealed. As I jumped into the half marathon as a walker, I just stayed excited to be a part of the magical energy of hundreds of people facing there own personal demons and realizing there own strength. Victory!
Before I knew it, I could once again mount my two wheeled steed. It was harder than I expected. I soon realized that the success here would have to be redefined. Baby steps would be required and expectations altered. After taking stock in what was possible and what I was determined to feel, I set smaller goals. I stayed within myself where I was not where I had been or where I wanted to be. I knew I had to find some victories. While it took some time, soon I would go a little farther or climb a little stronger than the last ride. Success! While I never was certain that I could or would ride like I had, I was still achieving a little each time and for that I was thankful and excited. That was my new measuring stick.
Back in the pool; my coach was comforting, reassuring and certain. In her eyes, I was still an athlete and she treated me as such. In her, I believed even when I was not sure where to begin finding success somewhere between 1 and 25 meters. I had worked so hard to feel like I was a swimmer of sorts and now I felt as if I was starting over. I felt as if my body was hinged at all the wrong places and no part was working the way it should. Coach, however gently assured me that things would come around and then would hand me an “impossible” swim set. Where was I going to find a victory here? She found them for me. Just get through a swim set – victory, have better form – victory, set and make an interval – victory. Before long and just as she had said, things began to feel normal and even strong. Success. The goal was to make each practice – success. Then add in an additional practice – success. Over time I was no longer just trying to see old splits, but now I was seeing all new times. Success!!
The time came to get back in the game. I would not doubt. I would not question. I would have a plan. This is the benchmark. This is just to see what is there. Does the fire still burn? Is there still purpose? What can I learn? This would require to new measurements. I would not look back. I would not look at others. This is my journey. It always has been. It always has been about who I am, what I can do, who I can be. That is it at the core. That is all competition really is; a way to measure where we have been and where we are going and who we become in the process. It is never about who is in the next lane, who else toes the line or rolls up next. What makes it competition is that each person has chosen this as a way to be on that journey and the energy that is created propels everyone forward. The race was decided and a new plan formulated. I would be the director this time, I would make the calls, I would shoulder the responsibility for my path. I soon learned that I was listening to my body more than ever. Success! With new expectations came new confidence and I was willing to do it differently hoping to get different results. Everyone that really knows me, assured me that it was time and that I had always had everything it took to stand on my own. I began to feel a bit like Dorothy in Oz. I was loved, supported and no one questioned me so I ran with it. Victory!
On the eve, it felt like the first time. Did I remember what to do? Did I do all I needed? Was I certain of the plan? Yes, all systems are a go with new idea of what how to measure. I have learned from so many. I took a little from each and a new person was evolving. As the sun crested over the lake, I felt the familiar energy in the midst of swim caps. It is a palpable feeling of fear and excitement that resonates everywhere just as we move into the murky water. In that moment we are all sisters and brothers on this path that would not exist with each other. Behind the goggles each person is taking stock in their own fears, goals, dreams, demons and measurements. The cannon explodes and the dance begins. Power is realized, strength is manifested, certainty comes into focus and determination sets the pace. I enter the water with confidence. Somewhere the old panic is not there. With two hundred other women swimming in the same direction at the same time, there can be some chaos. Perhaps it was there, but I didn’t feel it. I just swam from buoy to buoy. How am I feeling? Where is a clean path, Can I pull a little stronger? Can I kick a little harder? These are the much different questions I am asking myself. Take it a buoy at a time. Stay in the swim and be strong. You have done this nearly every day for months. Gone are the days of fighting for my line and rather I am letting my line come to me. Before I know it, I see the shore approaching. Hmmm, that was a little longer than I thought, but I feel great is what I am thinking to myself. Success!
I run through transition and everything goes smoothly. What is the next thing I need? Race belt, helmet, sunglasses, shoes and the bike are all I need and I had prepared them in order. I guess I did remember how to do this. With each turn of the pedals I feel incredibly strong. I remember the plan. Measure the bike in 15 minutes. Every quarter of an hour get some calories in and take stock of where I am. Be aware of the planned heart rate, but more importantly really know how I feel and what I need in the moment. Within that moment, evaluate the road and decide what gear I need. Those are all I need to think about. If I find myself needing to mentally wander off, pray. It is working and I feel strong. When I was hungry I ate and I drank before I got thirsty. Towards the end I felt some pain in my foot. I realized I had less than an hour to go so I decided to give myself permission to get off the bike in an hour if it was still hurting. In the meantime, I had a job to do so head down and turn the pedal over. I turned the corner to get back to transition and there were huge crowds cheering for me and everyone else. The energy lifted me up and I remembered that feeling. Those of us on the other side of the baracades were representing so much for so many people. As we moved through our journey, we were demonstrating to someone what is possible and that is exciting. I started to cry for the sheer joy of being here when, in the moment, I realized I was still in the race and it was not yet finished. I had finished 56 miles on the bike at an all new record speed for myself. Success!
A quick stop in transition to drop off my bike and change into running shoes and I am off on a 13.1 mile run. While the legs aren’t fresh, they are still moving and doing what I am asking of them. I am struck that less than a year ago I wasn’t sure this would be happening and here I am. This is the part where everyone gets focused and quite. At this point, it is about trusting that the pain will pass and really staying in the moment. I develop a plan. The run is three four mile loops with half of each loop on a dirt service road. Putting 2000 people on a short route can make running on a dirt road with grass crowded. So my plan was to run my pace and not get trapped behind a slower pace. I would keep hydrated by taking something at each of the four aid stations and I would take the run a loop at a time. The miles ticked off. At one aid station I got frustrated about not being about to get what I needed. Someone behind me saw my frustration and reminded me to stay calm and not waste energy. Like I said, we are all in this together and it is a group effort to realize dreams. Before I know it, I am on my last mile and on target for a personal record. I begin to cry. I am so grateful for the strength and power to do this, for all who have helped me, for all who have supported me and for all who have encouraged me.
Now some time has passed and I have had time to reflect and regroup. I realize that race recovery is taking longer than I remember. I also know that devoting the time to recover is vital to the rest of my season. So for now, I focus on my recovery and letting my body do what it knows to do. I find myself reflecting. The biggest realization is that this is not a come back. I don’t want to go “back” to where I was. I know that I am a different athlete. The athlete I was would train every session as if it were a race or the predictor of my race. The athlete I was would never worry about recovery. The athlete I am has learned to embrace the process. The athlete I am is all about taking each day as it comes. The athlete I am knows that each day that I move is a victory.