Wednesday, November 23, 2011
It Is Done - Ironman Arizona
Where to start? When I was 16 years old, I saw the Ironman on TV. I distinctly remember being mesmerized. Over the years, that race just seemed to “show” up in my life. I remember taking care of my second newborn infant and once again being mesmerized by the race so much so that I forgot about another commitment I had that day and instead sitting in front of the TV watching Lori Bowden. Somewhere in my consciousness I knew I had a calling to take on something like the Ironman. I get it that not everyone has this kind of pull or even understands it – I just knew I did. Then the commitment started, first when I told another human being out loud about it. Sitting at an Ihop, I told my then boyfriend/now husband, “I am going to do Ironman before I am 40”. At the time I didn’t know that there were more than one Ironman race or that qualifying for Hawaii was the way to get there. So started the educational process. I am 42 now, have done 6 Ironman races, had 2 back surgeries, gained amazing friends, had a complete transformation and I have qualified for Kona. On this road, I have confronted fears I never knew I had. I have met myself coming and going. I have been forged like a samari sword.
This spring I had the chance to spend the weekend with the legend Julie Moss. She sat patiently as I told her my “story” and then looked me straight in the eye or rather my soul and told me “you will go when you decide you deserve it.” Thus set me on the path of figuring what that was going to take and what was holding me back. All I knew was that this year was going to be about putting it all out there and taking a long hard look at what I really wanted. What I wanted was to be fearless. Who am I and how does that look as an athlete? Who do I look up to the most? How do I really want to be in the process? So I started by looking at whom I admired in the sport. Who did I find myself following all year long? There were really only two women that I identified with – Natasha Badmann and Hillary Biscay. Those women exude doing things because they have merit not just to have a title. I would see that they would stay the course no matter what because it was important and do it with a smile the whole time. After doing everything I knew how and realizing that there really was one stone yet unturned; I asked Hillary to coach me. Geeze- now I am really putting it out there! No more flying under the radar – I’m all in. Which is how I do most of my life anyway. I had to confront the message of “I am a 432 year old mom of teenagers – who do I think I am” that shows up whenever I get around those that I admire in the sport. Hmm maybe it is time to think of your self as an Athlete. I have been following Hillary since her Sutto days. I remember years ago, watching an interview with her right before the Ironman Florida (which was something like her 7th Ironman race that year and she had placed top 5 in every one of them) and she said, “Coach says if I get top 3 I can take a month off”. Wow, that lit the fire in my belly and asking her to coach me was going to be a bit like jumping off a cliff. When the email came back “yes” – well that was it - chips all in!
We had 2 months to get my post Louisville Ironman body ready to go again in at the Ironman Arizona. Now I knew things were going to be really different in the training department. Some of the workouts took a bit of me wrapping my brain around. After a few weeks I settled in to them and realized how much I was learning and how my body was adapting. Awesome! There were several times when I thought that my Masters Swim Coach, Susan and Hillary were really working together or maybe this is what the next level really looks like. Then the wheels seemed to come off….
One morning I woke up feeling “off”. I started the first of my 3 workouts that day and lasted about 20 minutes before my stomach started to revolt followed by my entire abdomen. Twelve hours later I am in the hospital with an enlarged pancreas and ulcers and on a morphine drip. No sooner does that get under control, then I am out on a easy jog that my left foot sends the all too familiar message to sit on the curb and don’t run another step. Four weeks out and confirmed stress reaction in the heel. I have had a few stress fractures so I know that when they decide to show up it can be anywhere in the process of healing but usually 4-6 weeks is what it takes. I am four weeks out and if I get off of it I should be fine. Leading up to the race, I had plenty of chances to say that over and over to myself. I ran on the anti gravity treadmill to avoid pounding on my foot and only went as far as running with 85% of my body weight. Walking around in a boot a week out from doing an Ironman race certainly can challenge ones idea of what it looks like to qualify for the World Championships. I have believed in Rocky and Rudy – to be great; one must over come much. Yet when all this happened, those closest to me didn’t even flinch. Hillary just sent revised workouts and Jesse just kept asking me what my workouts were and Susan put me in the fast lane. Kind of like when my kids were little and they would fall down and then look at me for a reaction. If I stayed calm they would be off and running with hardly a tear but if I flinched we would be at the band-aids and popsicles for every little scrape. So I just kept looking for a way to get things done and maybe we do it differently?
Go time – Get in the car and drive to Arizona. This could not have been a better scenario. My family is with me. I have done the race before so I know the course. I have had only few opportunities to race with friends and now I have an entire gaggle of them on the course with me. I have the best sports massage therapist in the world here. My awesome cousin lives here and knows all kinds of things healing. My mother in law and spiritual mentor is here. My coach is on the course as well. Things could not be in better alignment to support the best effort I can give on the day. Finally, my husband looks me straight in the eye and says, “if you believe it has to be hard it will be, why not believe that you are right in the flow of where you are supposed to be and enjoy”. Ok so that is different. Maybe I have outgrown the need be beaten to a bloody pulp to be worthy of the path I am on. Maybe I really do deserve to have the most wonderful coaches show me the way. Maybe I already have done the training and the body knows what to do.
Race day – 4am comes just like it does every morning. I did sleep rather than the normal toss and turn. Everything seems to just go with the flow. Aside from the traffic frustration, my usual pre race edginess is not there. Body marking has 3 friends from home ready to greet me with excitement and encouragement. Such great girls in knee high pink socks dancing around and easing everyone’s tension. Aside from the usual age on the calf and race number on the arms, they write Smile on one hand and HTFU on the other for me to look at all day.
Then I am off to the water and to get in position to swim. For some reason I cant get to my usual place up front and cant even see the first buoy and without warning the gun goes off. The last time I did this race, it wasn’t long before the “washing machine” calmed and a train had formed. This time I kept looking for the “train” of fast swimmers and instead I was in a school of them. Wow, better swim hard and hold on to some kind of position. After the turn around it seemed like the buoys and the line and turned into musical chairs. So I decide to swim a straight line and sight off the bridge rather than chasing the buoys. The water seemed really choppy and I am pretty sure those at the back of the pack could walk the swim because I drank half of the lake. I am all about hydration. I had mixed feeling about coming out of the water. On one hand I was ready to be out of the cold and congested swim. On the other hand, this was going to be my first taste of running with 100% body weight on land while I made my way through transition. I have to say that adrenaline is a good thing and there was just enough to sensation to decide that I would decide later how the run would go and that now I only needed to focus on getting on the bike.
Coach had given me very specific instructions on how to do this race. Knowing how to race the bike portion of the Ironman is something that I just had not grasped. I could ride hard and that is all I had done up until now but racing it is different. Hillary had told me that I was racing the bike. I needed to take my competitors into consideration and have a strategy. I had only just ridden my bike as hard as I thought I could while thinking about running a marathon up until now. Today was different. Today I was racing every leg of the Ironman. I also found myself repeating different mantras. As the wind picked up (and boy did it ever) rather than mantras of fighting, I was repeating “fresh and loose- ease into the flow” over and over. The bike course in Arizona is 3 loops, the longest part is a straight away slight incline up Beeline highway with nothing but the dessert to look at or provide protection from wind and then back down the incline to town. On the first loop out I notice slight wind coming from the east with no help up the Beeline but also no hindrance down which allowed for some nice speed. The start of the second loop provided a bit more information as the wind picked up and was shifting a bit from the east to the south – hmm going down the Beeline was not as much fun this time. The third loop was so easy going up the Beeline that I knew coming down was going to warm up the legs for the run or so I kept telling myself as the quads burned. That was in an effort to stay “relentlessly positive” as the Sally Meyerhoff band on my right hand kept telling me. So as I made the turn, I put my head down and worked to get back to town as quickly as possible. I repeated the mantra “be in the flow”, made sure I followed Coach’s instructions and made sure I was racing. Before all was said and done it was the right hand turn into town and then prepare for the run. Coming into transition, my “spotters” told me that I was in 5th. Decision time is now – are the chips all in or not. All I knew is that the no turning back time was here and I was going to really see what my mind was capable of accomplishing. This is what I came here for – to see what the spirit can really accomplish. As I took my first steps onto the run, I was going to see.
The sound of those first steps did not exactly sound like those of someone placing in the top of the age group. They sounded much more like a skip with one foot and a step with the other. I decide to go for it for as long as I can. I will make course corrections along the way. I decide to repeat the mantra. At about mile 3, I see my friends from home and ask them to give me my splits and position. When I see them on the backside of the loop, they tell me I am in 4th and to let that carry me over the foot. At mile 4 I see my dear friend Steve Rink and my new friend “the Butt” Brian Folts dancing like fools in pink zebra striped Speedos and cheering people on. Steve, forever exuding relentless positivity does a very good job of drowning out any self-doubt or pain by constant words of encouragement. Back around for the second loop, I see the girls again. Position changed to 5th but I’m gaining on those in front. Ok focus now and keep moving and stay in the flow. The great thing about a 3-loop course is it is easy to break it down. On the second loop, I start to say to myself, “you only have one more chance to come by here”. On the second loop, I see Hillary. She gives me some instructions and words of wisdom having been in my shoes before and sends me on my way. Somehow that is like a shot in my arm. Then I see Brian and he just makes me laugh. As I head into one of the more festive aid stations I am laughing and I realize that I have enough where with all to even get a little grove on. It feels good. After that I get to see Hillary again and I realize that my digestive system really wants me to be done. Having two teenage boys in the house, talk about bodily functions is the norm and I sometimes forget that is not the same way for everyone as I yell out “I have to poop” and some guy behind me says TMI and I get some strange looks from others. I was just afraid to stop moving for a pit stop and I was afraid of becoming infamous like Uta Pipping or the “poopman” from Ironman Florida. I decide the second option is better than the first so just keep moving. On to the third lap, the great thing about a lapped course is it is easy to see your progress. Now I can say to myself “this is the last time you get to see this so make it count”. When I see the “spotters”, I am told that I am making progress on second and third place. I also have seen most of my friends on the course and each time I feel a little bit of inspiration or encouragement. I see Coach and she tells me to not walk another step – hmm tall orders there coach but I will try. Back around to the festive aid station with girls dressed in fishnets and heels and crazy dancing guy – I can still smile which is a good sign and I am still running with 3 miles to go. CRAZY! Back around to the last 2 miles where I see Hillary running and screaming at me to keep going and to find another gear – yeah ok that gear would be to just stay out of neutral and reverse at this point. Everyone is at the finish line and the last mile is a bit of no man’s land when out pops my wonderful husband. The final shot in my arm to get me there. I have never had my legs hurt so badly and I have no idea what place I am in. I do know that the watch is saying something to me that I have been visualizing since 2004, a 10:something Ironman?! I don’t remember much about the finishers shoot except once again seeing Mike Reilly up in the tower and hearing my name and seeing the clock 10:40!
I know I could not have done this without my amazing team of supporters. My incredible husband, Jesse, who’s unending support kept me going. Thank you my love for asking the big questions. My kids – Devin, Jonah and Paige that put up with me on the trainer at soccer games, missing football and lacrosse games as well as their races and always said “Go For it Mom – no plan B!” To my coach, Hillary – just the best experience ever to learn from you. I am beyond words. To my swim coach Susan – for always seeing more in me. For the Sisters – you just get me even when you don’t. For the rest of my family – for your support even when you think I have lost it. For my sponsors – Victory Martial Arts and Tri-Sition Area for your support in all ways. For Dr. Allan Villavicencio, Boulder Neurosurgical associates and Bob Cranny at Altitude Physical Therapy and Nick Milnor at 4Extreeme Health and Dr. Marque Allen at Sports Medicine Associates for putting me back together again over and over and never telling me I can’t do this . You are the best. For my team mates – thank you for pushing me even when I said I was tired. And last but not least all my amazing friends I have made in this sport – May we continue to inspire each other! Aloha!!