Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I remember it so well.  I would see the M-Dot logo on someone’s t-shirt or hat and almost burst into tears but had no idea why.  I remember my first coach explaining to me that someone could not just “sign up” to “do” Kona and that set me on the long journey to “just get there once”.  I would watch the live coverage and my stomach would ache with desire to know what it felt like.  The second Saturday in October in my house was a sacred day.  I would stay up all night long to watch people cross the finish line.  The more involved I got in the sport the more people I knew to follow and would cry every time someone I knew crossed the line.  Then IT happened to me!  Well it didn’t just “happen”.  I kept the dream alive through two back surgeries, through many close calls, through frustration and injury, through finding a coach in Hillary Biscay that scared me and also knew she understood my dream and me.  Four years ago I crossed that finish line and realized there was still so much more for me to learn about myself.  I was not able to return to race in 2013 due to a bad bike crash. I went back in 2014 and was reminded of the magic and challenge that makes racing the Ironman World Championship so exciting and hard.  I realized then the caliber of athleticism that makes those that win and do well the very best in the world.  I left the island last year with a feeling of dissatisfaction and wonder about what I really could do.  I raced the following month and picked up another chance to dance on the big island for the third time. 
So I entered my 10th year racing Ironman in 2015 with a Kona entry in my back pocket, my season not “chasing” a slot, my first 365 days in five years without a stress fracture and a decision to do more than I ever had to prepare to see what I could do on the island.  I raced my 11th Ironman at Ironman Texas and finished in 11:11!  Not my best time nor my best race but a good benchmark for where we were.  I went to my favorite training playground for a month to learn about myself and train with my favorite partners who could push me.  I also had “life” in big doses.  I have always believed that when I declare what is really important to me, life is going to make me “prove” it and that what usually shows up sometimes  appears as an obstacle that reinforces my decision.  What I knew for sure was that I was in the best shape I had ever been in going into that race. 
Race morning came and I was thrilled to see what I could do and represent my sponsor in my very cool new Smashfest Queen kit. I know going into each race I am going to look great and comfortable gear is never going to be an issue. 
 I got to the race start at the same time as a very good friend in the sport – we went through body marking together, hugged and wished each other well.  I went to set up my transition and get ready to swim.  I felt certain that I was swimming more strategic and stronger than I had last year.  The swells were big enough to be deceiving.  There were many times I was sure I was swimming with the front group only to have a wave crest and see the front group was far ahead of the group I was with.  

 As I got out of the water I saw that the swim was slow but I knew it was a long day and the bike was where I had done the most progress this season.   
My Dimond bike has to be my most comfortable ride ever.  I am so grateful for the Dimond team for their close attention to those of us on the bike and to their product.  That kind of dedication to the athlete is appreciated and makes me want to strive to be the best I can be on that bike.  I knew it was going to be a hot day when even heading out on the Queen K early on I could feel the heat.  I had not noticed that in previous years but this is Kona and anything is probable.  We were treated a little rainstorm at the turn around.  The ride back to town proved to set the tone for the rest of the race with the usual headwinds from Waikoloa and what felt like riding into an oven.  As I turned the corner into T2 I got a bit choked up that I realized I was very close to a bike personal record on that course. 
The run started out with a bang.  I felt a bit snappy and was happy to be on the course and excited to see my loved ones.  Unlike the year before I was actually able to run right away.  It wasn’t long though before the feet started to act up.  When that happens it is about managing the nerves that are cranky.  I also realized this was HOT.  All of Ali Drive was soaked from the sprinklers trying to keep us cool.  I was in a battle of adjusting shoes and trying to run.  I realized that if I just kept moving even it wasn’t running then things would settle and I could pick up the pace for a bit.

 I have been at this long enough that I know there may come times where the plan must adapt.    We were getting to that time quicker than I had hoped.  For a while, I have preached the motto “it isn’t about the finish line” to the people I am privileged coach.  I have learned that it is in the process in which we are forged.  There were times over the year that looking at an entire day and training session was more that what my mind would accept but if I chunked it down into bite size pieces I would experience a sort of victory.  The idea of “tiny victories” was born out of a season of major life changes and a decision to do more than I ever had in training and coaching.  I started looking to each aid station as a victory.  We were going to break this thing down into manageable pieces and celebrate each one.  Palani Hill was on the horizon and I knew I had mentally cracked the two previous attempts.  It isn’t long, but that piece of the course can feel brutal.  I decided that no matter what I was not walking it.  “Lean forward, knees up, short stride, get up it!” and I did!  Time to celebrate!  Then the left turn into the oven or the Queen K.  I decided I was going to celebrate each time I got to an aid station running.  I got to have a few more tiny victories than the year before. 

The “energy lab” was approaching.  I started to decide how this was going to be tackled.  In 2014, I watched the sun set as I started down the descent towards the turnaround close to the beach at mile 16.  I decided that no matter what I was going to get in and out of this stretch before the sun set.  That became the tiny race I was going to have with myself.  I would tackle the rest of the race after I got this accomplished.  As I rounded the corner back to town in the daylight, I had a tiny celebration as I high- fived a volunteer.  The next mini challenge was to see how far up the Queen K I could get before sunset.  As each aid station came to me in the dimming sunlight, I knew this was a race against time. I celebrated a little, as I was close enough to town to see the lights from the shopping centers as the dark of night settled on the road.  Getting this far was better than chasing glow sticks like I did the year before.
Running down Palani and towards the finish never fails to bring tears to my eyes as I know all the legends of our sport that have run that same road.  I am always reminded of all the stories I have read about that stretch of road as I studied the paths those took before me.  This year the familiarity of those last few miles were not lost on me.  How much had I gone through, fought for, and worked on to have that feeling of familiarity?  The ramp up to the finish line with the giant screen that allows those from all over the world to experience that magic is the Ironman finish line is overwhelming and fantastic.  The feeling of crossing this time was a bundle of stacking together a bundle of tiny victories.  
I don’t know of another life circumstance that magnifies the gratitude for my family, my loved ones, my coach, my sponsors and my teammates quite like that single moment of crossing that finish line.  I know that there isn’t a single athlete that gets there without a small village of love, support and encouragement even when they are torn at the missed moments and milestones.  In the lights of the finish line, the cheers from the crowds, the outstretched “high-fives” from spectators and the announcement of  “You are an Ironman” each participant knows a bit more about themselves and is able to be more of a partner, friend, family member, co-worker to that village. Therein lies the big victory that Ironman gives to everyone.  In the midst of the tears and pain, miracles and magic and tiny victories happen on that day and I am reminded that as humans we are capable of much more than we know.


Tracy Wood said...

Great post! I can identify with your struggles and the process. Have a dream to go to Kona. I have completed 3 IM's so far. Right now, unable to work the last 2 weeks due to my back. I have been working to get back to training after a car accident from last year yet have had several setbacks due to the physical demands of my job. I will keep working hard and never give up. It truly is about the process. Hearing that you have completed Kona even after 2 back surgeries and bike crashes, your story gives me HOPE!!!! Thank you

dawnelder said...

Tracy- Keep the dream! Ask better questions of those that can help you. Let me know if you want some help with the back issues. My doc is amaze balls and he is an Ironman! Stay with it and you will be stronger on the back side.