Finding success in failure

For the past 10 weeks, I’ve had one goal in mind – to set a personal best time in a half marathon. I’ve raced the distance in triathlon events a couple times before, but this would be the first without swimming or biking. I think it goes without saying that the goal of running faster in a pure running event should be fairly attainable, by at least 15 to 20 minutes. After some discussions with my coach, we settled on the goal of 1 hour 45 minutes. At the time, and to be completely honest, right up until the week before the race, it felt daunting. To run a 1:45 would mean I would be running at a pace that earlier this year was on par with my 5K pace. But, I trusted my coach, which in turn made me believe this was possible.
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On the Friday morning before race day I was getting ready to hit the road when I started to feel a bit “off.” At the time I brushed it off as nerves, and for the next 12 hours that was all it seemed to be, until about midway through Saturday when it hit me like a ton of bricks. My stomach was in knots and nothing I ate stayed in for very long. I was curled up in a ball under the bed sheets, and that’s when the tears started. I was disappointed and frustrated for all those hours of hard work just to get to race day in less than optimal form. By around 6:00 that night, I found the energy to join friends for a pasta dinner, but by later that evening my stomach was doing somersaults.

On race morning, I felt like I had lost five pounds and my fuel tank was on zero. At that point, I could have opted out, or simply half jogged, half walked the race, but I have this relentless stubbornness, and going in half way wasn’t an option, even if my body disagreed. That mind versus body battle is an interesting one. I’ve had it a million times and each time I can never predict which one will be victorious.

At the risk of sharing too much information, I popped almost half a pack of Immodium and headed towards the start line. Within the first kilometre, I felt depleted and lethargic, but still believed there was a chance. By 5k, I was still optimistic and was only about one minute off my goal pace. By about 9 kilometres, I knew I was struggling because I started to look at my watch more than usual, and I could feel a wobble in my legs. At 35 minutes, as planned, I took my first gel, and realized my initial nutrition plan on a day like today would not be enough. My stomach felt like it was eating itself.

It was by about the 13 kilometre marker when I knew that I wasn’t going to hit my goal; now it was about finishing. As I rounded a downhill corner, I looked up to see a familiar face in the crowd, Keri. She was cheering loudly and I tried so hard to give her a smile, but feared that it came off more like a grimace. On a good day, my smile comes naturally, yet not so much on this day. About 500 metres up the road, I slowed to a brief walk, allowing my body a slight rest to see if it would help – not really – so instead I yelled at myself to get going; one foot in front of the other.screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-5-35-20-pm
When I finally saw the finish chute, I gave it everything I had. The faster I ran, the faster it would be over. I did not have the energy to celebrate; I could hardly stand. I barreled my way through the crowds of other runners, found a tree, and sat under it on the cold, wet ground. I was done. My mind and body could finally agree on one thing, it was time to rest.

My race time was disappointing – I did not hit my goal. I got a PB, but not the one I wanted, and it’s a difficult thing to find success in failure. It’s difficult to look at what went right instead of finding everything that went wrong. I have a bad habit of dwelling. I’m constantly having to remind myself that bad races happen. Sometimes we make tactical errors and fail in our execution, and sometimes our failure is simply out of our control. Not every day is perfect, and neither is my body; it goes through ups and downs. I recognize that dwelling on “down” moments does not do me any favours, and that it’s best to leave those moments behind and move on.

Tiger Woods once said, “Winning is not always the barometer of getting better.” I may have missed my goal on this day, but that does not define my accomplishments. That permanently etched time on the Internet does not always represent the work, the other successes, or me. This is something I am constantly working on – realizing what did go right and celebrating that. And, realizing there will be plenty more races and plenty more opportunities for failure and success. In the end though, it’s all a part of the learning experience and becoming a stronger and faster competitor.

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Chasing the unknown

It’s been awhile since I last saw down to write a story. In fact, I’ve been relatively quiet. Months have passed since Ironman and although I had the intentions of sharing my journey in writing, that day has more or less become a distant memory. In the off-season I’ve been training for a half marathon while I contemplate what next year will bring for me. It’s been an interesting balance of more free time for life stuff, getting in some decent workouts so I don’t go completely mad, and pondering where to go from here.

Last year, Ironman was more or less about finishing. In previous seasons, I had been sidelined by serious illness and some injuries, and this year I was simply hoping to stay healthy and injury free so I could train consistently through a solid eight months and realize some real goals and results. And, despite a nasty cold the week before the race, I finished my training season in excellent race ready form. I went into the day with high expectations, hoping to shave more than an hour off the previous year. Despite taking 10 minutes off the swim, and 18 minutes off the bike, I only ended up being 22 minutes faster. Dehydration and heat got the better of me and by the time I hit the run, I wasn’t even sure that I would finish. I had taken in almost 10 bottles of liquids, yet I hadn’t peed since the start of the swim. I knew I was in trouble. Incredibly, I did finish. Once again I relished in that amazing moment of crossing the finish line. Although I was disappointed, I allowed myself to celebrate the achievement of simply becoming an Ironman for the second time around.
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This year’s race reminded me that the day comes with many variables and that it is very challenging to execute everything according to plan. This year was a lot tougher. The mental battle was excruciating and physically, I felt pain all the way through to my bones – I guess that’s what it means to go from finisher to  competitor. Not reaching my time goal was a tough pill to swallow. All those months of working my butt off, and I fell short of my goal. I know I could do better, I know I could be faster, but that is the beast of Ironman, sometimes it gets the better of you. Now it’s back to square one. There is no guarantee that I will go through another season healthy and injury free, or that I will hit that start line as ready as I was this year. There are no guarantees; period. So, do I go back to that day in and day out, eight months of two-a-day,  working my butt off training to not know if I will ever get faster or ever get closer to a podium finish? Is it in me? Is my Ironman journey over? I have asked myself these questions over and over again.

The reality is I love this sport. There is almost nothing else in this world that I’m more passionate about and more fired up about than swimming, biking and running. It’s addicting. I love the challenge, the chase, the ups, the downs, the heartache, the wins, the losses; I do truly do love it all. And, while race day is the icing on the cake, some of the best stuff is what you get to accomplish in the day in and day out training. The personal bests, the new adventures, the challenges, the friendships, the muscles that scream at you in pain, but in some sick way you flourish in it. Those are the reasons I keep coming back for more.

It took me a lot longer to realize it this year, but now I know for certain that when December hits, I’m back at it.  I’ll never know what race day will bring, but I guess that’s part of the thrill – the unknown , unwritten ending to the story. Really though, I’ll never know until I try.