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.

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.

Not enough time

There is never enough time. Outside of eating, sleeping, cooking, cleaning, personal hygiene, socializing, walking the dog, quality time with the boyfriend, and a Monday to Friday 8-4 job, I’m left with few precious hours to train. Sometimes I look at my training schedule and wonder how it will all fit into my day. In fact I find it challenging from week to week to properly fit it all in without overdoing it or missing something. Today was a prime example of trying to do too much at once. I was scheduled for a two-hour endurance ride and a form practice swim lesson at 7pm. Waking up at 430am to get in nutrition, stretching, the ride, a shower, and travel to work, seemed a little unreasonable, so I figured I’d make a mad dash home at 4pm, hop on the trainer, then rush off to my swim class at 630; totally doable. Cue 415 and I’m flailing through the front door, scrambling into my bike shorts, filling up water bottles, and grabbing TV remotes (trust me, you need TV for an endurance ride on the trainer). I finally got properly seated in the saddle and I had a Gatorade in one hand and two remotes in the other, surfing for the hockey game. At this point I was still frantically settling myself in for a long ride, and as I reached down to the coffee table, mid cycle, for my water bottle cap, the law of gravity embraced my large off-balanced body and, wham!  I had the trainer and bike on its side and on top of me, my body slammed up against the side of the table with a handlebar jammed into the top of my thigh. In the moment, horrendous curse words flew from my mouth and rage, panic and frustration welled up inside of me. I learn a valuable lesson today about training and about being reasonable. My training schedules are automatically generated for me based off my goals. It doesn’t take into account eating, cooking, sleeping, my boyfriend, or life in general. It just demands hours and mileage. But as an age group triathlete who will probably never grace the podium, I have to be realistic with my goals. I want to get better and I want a challenge, yet I still need to have time for everything else. What I learned is that training needs to fit your life, and sometimes it’s OK to miss a workout, or to take an extra day off. The top age groupers may believe their life revolves around the sport, but for me, until this sport will pay my bills, I will be left scrambling for time to fit it in. It will be a delicate balance, but frantically rushing from one thing to the next and falling on top of coffee tables seems like a bit much to me.