Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ironman Louisville 2011

Ironman Louisville 2011
This one will go down in the books as my defining race. I go into every race with 3 goals. Only one of them am I very vocal about – qualify for Kona. That is no secret. I learned from Chris “Macca” McCormick that if you have a dream don’t be afraid to put it out there, so I haven’t. The next goal is to have a personal record or in other words improve. Finally, it is to learn something about myself. After all, Ironman really is about forging the soul.
In the days leading up to the race I did what I always do in the midst of getting everything ready and going over all my equipment hundreds of times; I wrote out my perfect day. I wrote out what I was feeling in the moment as well as how I wanted to physically, emotionally and spiritually feel through out the race. I imagine having the perfect swim. What will I be feeling while swimming, what will I be thinking while swimming and how my swim will go. I follow that same process for the bike and the run. Then I read it over and over and fine-tune it. This time I even shared it with my husband. I wanted to make sure no stone was left unturned
Race morning I got up and had my usual pre race drink and sandwich. I also decided to randomly flip to a chapter in Mecca’s book and read whatever words the “Champ” had to say. I opened to the chapter “Embrace the Suck”. Read the chapter, got dressed and headed out to transition to set up and get ready to race. Everything was going very smooth and I felt excited and calm. I am never calm. At the rack I realize that a fellow competitor that I have followed but never met is racked right by me! I get to make a new friend. I have made friends at every race that I stay in touch with and make this experience so special. While we compete against one another, we wouldn’t be able to compete without each other so I always look forward to new relationships and cherish them.
The only time I felt agitated was trying to find the end of the line for the swim start. Very congested with athletes and family. I ended up just getting in line somewhere, as I needed to calm myself waiting in line for an hour. I spent that time thinking about my perfect day, listening to conversations around me and trying to send out blessings to all the athletes (another pre- race ritual for me). I realized that I had “iron – virgins” around me and enjoyed answering questions and getting them excited. Before I knew it the cannon sounded and the line moved very quickly. I always feel relief at this point because I know that the body will move into what it knows to do. With a time trial start, everyone entered the swim one at a time and then took off. I was in the water at about 7:15.
The Swim: Hmm the water is not as gross as I thought it would be. There are lots around me without the chaos of a mass start. Looking for packs or fast feet and I realize that there aren’t any and this will be a tactical swim. Thank you Coach for working with me on getting through the people because that is what I did. The women wore hot pink swim caps and I was off to see how many I could pass. I sited often enough to find a cap and eventually a buoy. I have no idea if I am swimming fast, but I know that I am moving through the groups. Now I start the self-talk – “Don’t be a barge” (thanks Todd). Keep your elbow high, Keep it in the front quadrant, where are your lats? Find them”. I said that all over and over and over. I really wanted to check my watch, but resisted the urge as I was on the hunt for pink caps. About 1000 meters out I realize someone is sitting on my feet! Hmm am I swimming fast enough for someone to want to sit on me?! That is a first (I think) , ok latch on buddy lets go. Ok a little ego there but I still struggle thinking of myself as a “swimmer”. As always the swim looks too long in the beginning and the end seems to come too soon. As I swim up to the dock and exit I allow myself to see my time 1:03!! Holy cow!! A PR on a non wetsuit, time trial swim! Maybe it is time to start thinking of myself as a swimmer. Got to give credit to Coach Susan and Todd for seeing the swimmer in me even when I can’t. Isn’t that how life is sometimes – and how valuable it can be to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes to get clarity of who we are.
Out of the water and in to transition. The downside of the time trial start is for the entire day you have no idea what place you are in because there are those that start way behind you. It truly is a “stick your own race” day. I just love the volunteers in the changing tent. As usual, I had the nicest lady take all my things out and help dress me. Shoes on, race belt on, helmet on, grab the glasses and go! I get to my bike and realize that my glasses only have one lens. Ok well this is Ironman and the life lesson here is to not sweat the small stuff and keep moving. I have always said that Ironman is like life in a fish bowl. If we can take the challenges, ups and down and translate them to life and get a little lesson out of it then it is all worth it. So I take off without the glasses. I see Jesse and take a breath. I am amazed at how that split second of seeing your “corner person” has such an energizing and calming affect. There is something about firing on all levels and having your most loved one see that is validating.
On to the bike. The beginning is always a cluster of bikes and emotions. Everyone is assessing where they are and how they are feeling. I was no different. Everything started off great. As usual, I was in the mix with several of my competitors and we were all riding the same pace. This means that we are constantly changing positions and getting to see each other. I keep exchanging positions with a woman that has a photograph of a man pinned to her top. I ask if that is her husband and she replies yes and that he passed away 3 weeks ago! I get choked up think about the circumstances that allowed her to be in this place. This is what Ironman is all about, overcoming life. I am grateful that she is here and send her a bit of energy. It is around this point that I am always reminded that while we are racing one another, we need one another to have a race in order to see what we are made of. It always strikes me as such a strange paradox – the battle of competition. Somewhere around the 40-mile mark, I realize that the wind has picked up and I am fighting my front wheel. Hmm a new lesson is learned – sometime the most aerodynamic set up is not the best on the day. I start to struggle to stay in the game as my speed is dropping. Ok this is one of those “troughs” and I know that as long as I keep moving forward it will change. This is the time of the game where the race is mental. I don’t know if everyone goes through this, I just know that I do. I will say that on this day – it lasted for the rest of the bike. Getting food down was impossible and I am thankful that I don’t rely on solid food alone (learned that one at Ironman Florida). Somewhere around the last 15 miles, a mini race between me and 2 other girls starts. We are pushing hard, no kind words are spoken and I know for me none were thought. I know that if I can push the pace and hopefully break the rubber band with these two, I will have a bit of a mental victory and some positive thoughts heading out on to the run. Total concentration is needed at this point. I am also aware that I am in at least 8th place. Not where I wanted to be going into the run as I am going to have to have my A game for the run to be competitive. Now I fight being discouraged and work to stay in the moment. Coming off the bike, Jesse tells me I am in 10th! Ok I think – game on. Time to adjust the plan. Now I am going for a personal record. All I can focus on is running a sub 4-hour marathon and see if that is enough to move up. Mile 2 has the first turn around and I can start to see who is in front of me and how far. I know one girl that I rode with and she is a good half-mile ahead. I have no idea of her pace so I am just going to have to go for it.
I have started the Ironman journey with the “I just want to finish”. The I went to “I want to do my best” and then on to “I want to do my best and hope that is enough to get to Kona or place. This time I had to be a warrior. I had to be a competitor. I had to be willing to dig deeper than just what I KNEW was in me to go to the place of “I am don’t know what is here but I am going to find out”. It was dark and scary. It required total focus and was very different from the way I have raced an Ironman. I relied on the experience of racing the Tall Texan the past 2 times and having to defend while being chased. Now I was the one in pursuit. All the “woowoo” karmic thoughts were pushed aside and I was totally in my body and mind with one single purpose. This was a level of being present I have never experienced. I kept my focus on the horizon and hardly noticed my surroundings. The pain was not a luxury I could afford to acknowledge. As I hit the halfway mark I desperately looked around for Jesse. In retrospect, if he had been there I am not sure I wouldn’t have caved to the emotions. I had to stay focused on mile splits and who was in front of me. I constantly scanned the horizon for the mile markers, as that was the only way I knew where I was performing. My GPS had been turned off for a few miles so the splits were off with that. I went right to my split timer on my watch and used that. Once again – life lesson of adapting to the situation on the spot and finding a solution. The last 6 miles were the time turn it on. The more I summoned some power in my legs, the more everything else rebelled. Every aid station was a fight to get down hydration and cooling the core while holding position.
I knew I had reeled in several girls, but had no idea how many. I only knew that I could just run the race of my life and focus on a Personal Record and let the chips fall where they may. The last 2 miles my legs came to life. I don’t begin to understand where the energy came from or why I couldn’t get it earlier, all I know is it was there. I saw the finish line and was watching my time constantly. With every push I had, I crossed in 11:04 and a new personal record! I knew that I had run a faster marathon but not sure what the margin was. It wasn’t until we got to the room that I saw 3:51. My fastest run before that was 4:07 – 16 min! I finished in 7th so I knew that took me out of the running for Kona and podium. I know that getting mired down in disappointment would keep me from realizing what I just did. Also I realize that the difference between a podium and my time was 2 min and 30 seconds. That margin is the smallest I have ever had. All in all an honorable effort. Most importantly, I realized once again, that Ironman took me to all new places with my soul and I learned more about myself than I could have without this experience. I learned a level of concentration within me that I have never experienced. I learned strength in me that I have never in all my years of competition and searching that I have never experienced. It drives a hunger to see more of myself and comforts me that life can never throw me a curve ball that I can’t respond to in the most powerful of ways.