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.