It’s All Part of the Game

The conditions couldn’t have been better yesterday, here in Kona for the Ironman World Championships. 

Madame Pele, the Goddess of Fire,  granted us with calm seas, minimal winds (save the last stretch along the Queen K!), low temps and overcast skies.

There are no complaints to be made about yesterday being too windy or too hot.  

Nothing even came close to having that ‘tempting fate feel’ that I’ve experienced in some years racing Ironman here, where you can actually see the heat rising from the asphalt and the air is so thick and heavy it’s as though there’s some force pushing against you.

Despite that, yesterday’s race, for me, was the toughest Ironman I’ve completed.

In early August, I had a very minor injury; I pulled a muscle in my back that set it into spasm for about six weeks.   I could barely run and could only ride upright on the trainer.  

Let me stop here for a moment and add that I do not, for one second, intend for this to come across as a pity piece, as a pulled muscle in one’s back is nothing compared to serious obstacles that others sustain and overcome and still complete this race.  I must add mention of it, though, if for nothing more than to give perspective of what was going on my mind.

What should have been two months of big volume rides and runs for August and September, along with fine tuning speed sessions and high wattage intervals amounted to what felt like nothing more than what I might do during the off season to keep fit- a spin here, a trail run there; certainly no speed or intensity.

While my minor back issue subsided slowly but surely, the seed of doubt in my mind began to flourish. I was still confident in my ability to complete the race, but what was significantly marred was my confidence in the run, which is my love, my passion and my strength.

In any given triathlon, while I do my best to stay in the moment, or even in the second, I’m always looking forward to the run.

Yesterday, however, I was dreading it.

Having only gotten up to  a single 14-miler about three weeks ago, I was far from having the volume to  be at my best for the big show.

I was horrified to find myself thinking about whether or not I’d have to walk, or even, I’ll admit, DNF.  

At the very worst, I even thought about not racing.  

I soon realized, though, that ‘not starting’ was not an option. It would simply not be fair.  Not fair to myself for not trying, and not fair to many other people who would have taken the slot to race here.  Further, I thought about how I couldn’t rationally expect that every single race would be a strong performance.  Everyone has a tough day, I thought.   Then, I began to spin it around and entertain the idea that perhaps I’d actually have an even better race, being that I’d go in much fresher and rested than normal.

During the days leading up to the race, while I did have little bits of pre-race jitters here and there, I actually felt more calm than in years past.

On race day morning, I felt quite relaxed and focused.   Different though, in the sense that rather than visualizing key wattage and power goals for the bike and pacing strategies for running my competitors down, I was focused more on inner strength and keeping my mind in the right place.

My swim was the typical for me, but my bike performance was less than what I usually put forth.  Rather than staying low, forward and aero on my bars, I knew I’d have to get up out of the saddle regularly to keep my back from tightening up.  It would cost me, that was for sure, but less so than beginning the run with the inability to run properly.

Then came the run.  

Oh, the run.  

Instead of powering along strong with a huge smile on my face, it turned into a one mile after the other jog, at a progressively slower pace with seemingly every muscle in my body reminding me of its presence in the form of a tweak here and a twinge there.

I began to think about walking around mile four.

I chose to make it  a waiting game.  One mile at a time.  “Let’s see how I feel at the next mile…”  Tight calves one minute, then a tight adductor.  Since the tightness moved around at occurred in varying places, none of which had, prior to the race, been any sort of an issue, I carried on.  

I reckoned that it wouldn’t likely hurt any less to walk than to run, or trot, given the pace I had slowed to, so I left it at that.  

I knew that may change at any given second, so it proved to be an exhaustive exercise in staying extremely present and not letting my mind wander into the land of ‘what if’.

Thinking about, and seeing, other athletes who had far, far more difficult things to overcome than a tight muscle or two is always an incredible source of inspiration.

Trudging along at mile 24, I heard the sound of someone crying loudly, seemingly in pain.  I looked to my right as I headed South down the last stretch of the Queen K and saw a female athlete, coming along the other side of the road on the bike course, riding her hand cycle, just finishing up the bike portion of her race.  It was nearly 5pm and she still would have to head out on the marathon component of her race.

It brought tears to my eyes.

I saw my husband right about then, who’d been the stoic, ever supportive rock upon which I lean and he cheered me on, reminding me I had just under two miles to go.   My coach was there, too, rallying me on.   I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten through the day without them.

I managed to slightly pick up the pace to run down Palani and to really take in the experience of running down that last bit of road on Ali’i… there’s nothing like that part of this race.

In the end, my finish time was 10:57.  My marathon was off my best Ironman run time by over thirty minutes and there’s  no stopping the thoughts of what the day could have been.  

I’d be telling a lie if I wrote that I was thrilled with how my day turned out.  

I know rationally that not every race can be a top five, or even a top ten finish, and also that what is a poor finish time to one person sounds like a great finish time to another.

Every one of us has our own goals to meet, times to break and reasons to go this distance.  We also learn from every single race we do.  We control the things we can, and work to roll with what we cannot.

It’s all part of the game, I suppose and despite the result, I remain extremely grateful for having had the chance to race here…and I will be back to deal with some unfinished business!