Final week!

At least once a month since February, I’ve been asked the same question, “when is your race?” And for the past five months, I’ve talked about it like it was a far off event, some time in the future, and not worthy of much discussion. But as February turned into March and March into April, July seemed to arrive in the blink of an eye. I’ve gone from not thinking much of it to, “holy, shit, it’s next week!” Then the accompanying, familiar waves of anxiety and nerves kick in, and my mouth gets dry and my stomach turns somersaults. It’s kind of like knowing an old friend is coming back to town for a visit, but you can’t quite recall if the last time you saw them it was fun or the worst experience of your life. Race day can be like that – fun, terrible, exciting and terrifying, all at the same time.

I’ve been here twice before, yet the same feelings plague me. I start to obsess over the weather, checking it multiple times a day, even though I know it will change a million times before race morning. I overthink everything, including asking the “what if” question, over and over again. What if it’s freezing cold? What if I get sick? What if I crash my bike? What if I cramp and can’t run? I obsess over my weight, hoping to lose just five more pounds, yet knowing very well that at this stage of the game, it won’t change much. I obsess over my bike and every little sound it makes, and wonder if it will fail me. My thought processes are ridiculous and massively neurotic.

The final month is the hardest. We have just finished the biggest training block of the season, where every day felt harder than the last, and now the mileage and hours taper off, and I’m left with more hours in the day to think.

Coming back to race this year was not always a sure thing in my mind. After my first Ironman, I knew almost right away I wanted to do it again, but after the second one, I wasn’t sure. Did I want to go through another year of training with no guarantee that I would have a better race? Did I love it enough to keep going? Did I have the commitment? By October, I had my answer but the following few months were tough. December felt darker, snowier, colder and longer than usual, and became the month of missed workouts. I was getting back into the swing of things by February but even still my dedication was wavering. There were nights of tears, doubts, meltdowns and second guessing myself. It wasn’t until about mid-March when I finally felt like I was gaining traction, both physically and mentally. And, ever since, things have just fallen into place. It became like clockwork, and I felt like I was chasing something again. With one week to go, I feel strong, healthy, happy, and more ready for race day than any other year. I guess that’s the complete package, four years in the making.
This race isn’t just about the past eight months, it is about the past four years. When I first started in triathlon, I thought I would be a one and done Ironman, yet here I am. Not only did I fall in love with this sport, but I am obsessed and driven to continue pushing my limits and seeing how far I can go – one Ironman wasn’t enough. The first year was about finishing, the second year was about chasing new limits, the third year is about pushing further. These years have been an adventure with more ups and downs than I ever thought I would experience. I was tested mentally and physically, I was pushed to my limits and beyond. I learned balance and compromise, patience, and how to listen to myself and how to know when to tell myself to shut up. Like every athlete, I’ve been through injuries and illness and I’ve learned how to battle back. And, through disappointment and anger, I’ve learned how to use it to fuel my inner beast.

As I hit the final week, I can practically hear the clock tick-tocking down in my mind. I am nervous, yet a bit nostalgic, thinking ahead to what will be, but also reflecting back on what has been. The work is done and I am proud of the season that was – despite the rocky start. I eventually found my grove and I know I’m leaving behind a year I can call successful. Race day is the final bow on package and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Victoria 70.3

It’s been four weeks since my half ironman in Victoria. One month goes by so quick at this time of year. As training mileage goes up, the pace of life goes up. It’s train, work, train, sleep, eat, repeat. I almost start to feel a bit robotic in my routines and wonder if and when I’ll have time to do the simple things – a load of laundry, vacuum, or even visit with friends. The fact that I have time and energy to sit down, reflect and write is my impressive feat for today.  Others would argue it was the 40K time trial in the morning or the 12K run in the blistering heat this afternoon, but to me, that’s just part of the routine – part of the final four week push to Ironman.

Although it was a month ago, Victoria is still quite fresh in my mind. I remember the days leading up to the race being very hectic. Work was keeping me more busy than usual and I was, at times, literally flying from one event to the next. There were late nights in the office, travel days down to the coast, and fitting training time in became a bit exhausting. Then there was the back and forth with the bike shop trying to get my new time trial bike, race ready. I don’t think I could have thrown anything else into the mix – I was firing on all cylinders.

Once I got to the island though, things seemed to settle down and then it was just a matter of going through the routine motions before the race.

On race morning, I was calm, relaxed and ready. As always, I showed up as early as possible to allow myself the time to go through my rituals of tinkering with my bike, strategically laying out my transition spot and methodically putting on my wetsuit.

By 6:08 a.m., the rolling start to the swim began, and I seeded myself accordingly, hoping to churn out a 35 minute time. Within 100 metres I thought I might just be lucky enough to survive. The water was chaotic and everything turned into an all out hammer fest. I don’t know where some people were going, but at least three people swam over top of me, at least twice I was kicked or punched in the face, and I had to put my goggles back on my eyes, all the while trying to keep swimming. It was like being caught in a stampede and if you stop or stumble, you’ll get trampled, or in this case, drown. It was, by far, the most aggressive swim I’ve ever been in, and for the first time since I’ve been racing, I felt uncomfortable in the water.

As I reached the last turn buoy to come back to shore, I took a wide turn, desperate for some open water. Although finding some feet and taking advantage of the draft would have been to my benefit, I just needed some space and was really hoping not to be clobbered for the swim back.

As I approached the swim finish chute, I was certain that after spending half the swim trying to out muscle all the flailing, my time would be slow. But as I ran up on shore, and looked down at my watch, there is was, 35 minutes. I was stoked. Maybe an aggressive swim works for me.

Running into transition, I reminded myself to slow down a bit, take a few deep breaths and not to hammer out of there. I’ve been working to slow my transitions down a bit, which is the exact opposite of what most athletes are striving to do. I’ve been known for my blazing transition times. I don’t have a tea party – it’s get in, get out. But knowing my race times aren’t within seconds of a podium finish, I’ve tried to allow myself to slow down just a bit. It actually makes for a much smoother transition for me if I’m not red lining at 100 miles per hour when going from the swim to the bike and bike to run. Still, looking back at the times, they were fast, but at least I allowed myself an extra 10 seconds to breathe.

The bike course, same as last year, was technical. There were quite a few tight turns, lots of small rolling hills and not much of an opportunity to settle into a rhythm. Just as quick as I got into the TT position, I was sitting back up again to climb a hill or turn a corner without taking out a competitor. Nonetheless, I hammered through it and felt the wobbly in my legs coming into transition.

While racking my bike, I could hear my family cheering me on from the sidelines. The sound of their voices put a pep in my concrete legs as I threw on my shoes and hat and fumbled with my race belt. Having a support squad on race day, especially family, is one of the best feelings about racing. I don’t know if they will truly ever understand how much their support impacts my day.
My run felt strong. Other than my traditional stop in the porta-potty at the first aid station, I tried to keep up a consistent pace and rhythm. There were moments of pain and wanting to walk, but I wouldn’t allow it. Over the years, just as I’ve seen physical gains, I’ve also grown stronger and tougher mentally. There is no quitting. It’s all about taking one kilometre at a time, and finding ways to get through each one.

By the time, I hit the final stretch, I was ready to celebrate. As per every race finish, I flipped my neon hat backwards and enjoyed hamming up the crowd and every last step through the finish chute.

My final time of the day was 5:41:07, which is a bit slower than last year, but when I break it down, overall I had a stronger race. My wins were a great swim, shaving 20 seconds off my run and placing 15th in my age group.

As I look ahead to the full Ironman in four weeks, I’m certainly feeling the effects of seven months of day in, day out training. I’ve got nerves and butterflies in my stomach every time I think about it. The workouts are big and sometimes the road looks really long. I’ve been here before, but it doesn’t change the anxious feelings. It’s almost like clockwork. I know there will be at least a few meltdowns and there will be at least a few workouts where I question why the hell I’m doing any of this. These final weeks is crunch time – it’s kind of like being thrown at a wall and seeing if you break.  And with every last workout, I might feel some cracking, but I’m not willing to break – at least, not today.