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.