Since completing IM Canada in 2016, there have been more adventures and experiences that I haven’t written about (including another Ironman finish). Better late than never, I suppose. For a while there, I couldn’t bring myself to actually write about any of these my experiences, as often as I had intended to.
I lost sight of my “why” along the way. Sometimes I thought I could still see it in the distance, and sometimes I had no idea where it had gone.
But, waking up early this morning to get my run on the treadmill in before the day started with kids and work (I’m currently training for a half marathon in a few weeks) I was excited to move. More than just excited, actually – I craved it, the movement, the push, the challenge, the “dig” for it. Reflecting back on the past couple of years, I realize it has been a long time since I had experienced this. I’m grateful to have met that familiar (and very much missed) feeling. I hope I can convince it to stick around!
IM Calgary 70.3, July 2018
I’ll start with the most recent adventures – in July I completed Calgary 70.3 and had the day I trained to have.
Solid swim, exactly where I expected to be. With a 2-loop course it felt crowded with lots of jostling on the first loop, but otherwise I found some feet and cruised along.
I was excited for the bike course – flat, fast, and I had busted it out all year to make gains in my speed and strength. With physics on my side I like being able to tuck into aero and go. I hit my goal for time and did it with a smile, exactly as planned.
The run wasn’t fast (at all!) , but I kept my smile, went at the pace I could, and had the run I had trained to have. It was 2 minutes slower than my bike time. Gah! So…my goal now is to learn how to run! I don’t aspire to podium or qualify for Kona, but I’d like to move more into the middle of the pack from the back. Last year I focused on improving my bike, so this year it is time to focus on my run, starting with the half marathon I’m signed up for in a few weeks.
I finished with an abundance of gratitude for the day, a solid PB by quite a bit, and even hung out in the beer tent for a bit afterwards 🙂 I really do love the race as a celebration of the work that was done and the support received, toward the privilege of my standing at the swim start and crossing the finish line (and everything in between).
I struggled in the weeks leading up (got a cold and couldn’t get it out of my lungs), but I raced anyhow – and found myself at the walk-in clinic the next day to address the issue. Turns out I’ve got a reactive respiratory thing happening that hasn’t been well controlled – kind of like a long-lasting exercise-induced asthma. This has been an issue for the past few years when volume increases with my lungs tending to revolt on me (and me being really good at getting pneumonia if I don’t take it easy when I’m sick). With some new meds I’m hoping to be more proactive in addressing this going forward.
Chinook Oly, July 2018
As a training race leading up to Calgary 70.3 I did my first olympic distance race in a while. I got talked into it about a month out – and I’m so glad I did – I loved it!! Chinook is a smaller, local race, and I’ve done it once before a few years back. I loved being in the open water, I surprised myself on the bike, and had a strong run (followed by another 10km training run the following morning). It was a great way to kick off the 2018 season, and rediscover my joy in triathlon. I haven’t done many shorter races in the past few years, but I think that going forward I’m going to make sure I include them. There is fun to be had in them that I had almost forgotten about.
Highwood Pass, June 2018
This remains one of my favorite experiences – and I opened my season with my first outdoor ride of the year with this beautiful and challenging 75+ km spin before the highway opens to traffic on June 15th (I read somewhere that it is the highest paved road in the country). And I love that the experience has changed – from one of the most challenging things I’ve done, to a push that I look forward to and enjoy. I rode with a training buddy who was getting ready to ride the hills of IM Canada in July, and for once, I managed to keep up on the climb. It took just over two and a half hours to summit, then and hour and five minutes to come back down again – wheeeeeeeeee! The grin lasted for days afterwards.
IM Arizona, 2017
I just couldn’t bring myself to write about this one or share my thoughts – not in the training, and not after the race. 10 months later, I think maybe I’m ready to attempt to do the experience some justice with words…
I guess the biggest reason I struggled was that I lost sight of my “why”.
A few months after Whistler I signed up for IM Arizona 2017 with my training partner. I was excited pressing that “register” button at exactly noon on the date registration opened – I loved who I was when I was training for Whistler and I couldn’t wait to be back in the Ironman bubble again, as all of the other things that were on my plate at that time (such as negotiating the separation from my husband) because so much more manageable, and at such a chaotic time in my life, IM was something that was mine, something I could do, it was my escape from the realities of day-to-day life, and I found so much comfort in it. Whistler was my 40th birthday present to myself, and I was committed to proving to myself that, truly, anything is possible. I remember feeling so fiercely proud of myself as I hobbled the run course and as I crossed that finish line – for all and everyone that had gone into getting me there.
Training for and racing IMAZ just over a year later was a very (very) different experience.
I was living a different reality as training for IMAZ got started – I was no longer living with my ex-husband, and with my kiddos live with me 90% of the time I found myself responsible for the bulk of child care. Training was no longer a welcome place that I could retreat into to avoid the stresses of home life – instead, it because an additional demand when I was already carrying more than I had before. I questioned whether I could do it, and on several occasions I felt that I had no choice but to pack it in. Procrastination, guilt, sadness, exhaustion, and resignation were my almost constant companions during those days.
I persisted in the training, but without the joy that went along with training for Whistler. Signing up to share the experience with someone else as a main motivation wasn’t enough, I discovered. I floundered, struggled, missed workouts, cried, and got sick. I seem to always struggle with kicking a cold when volume picks up, but this time was different – I missed almost the entire month of August because I couldn’t get it to stay out of my lungs. Gone was a big chunk of bike volume, and gone was the majority of run volume. I went into IMAZ without the training I wanted to have under my belt, with my confidence shaken, and hoping I could hang on and get through. As the race got closer, I withdrew into myself, didn’t smile much, didn’t laugh much, and just plain struggled. Everything felt dark, and not something to be shared in a blog.
The excitement of the venue and of the day got me pumped up and reminded me that I really do love this stuff!! My parents have a place close by, I brought my girls to hang out with my folks for a vacation for them, and I had the superior sherpa skills of my (then) partner, Michael, who was also with me in Whistler when our relationship was brand new.
As for the race itself? I guess I can say that had the day I trained to have.
I spotted my dad and Michael in the crowd as I was about to get into the water – that sent me off with a smile. My dad had always been apprehensive about my participation in the bigger races, so I was grateful to have him there so he could see how it all worked (and hopefully worry less as a result). The swim was pretty murky – like, difficult to see your hand in front of your face murky, but I knew that going in. It made it difficult to draft effectively, though. On an amusing note, I had been told that the markers were 100m apart – but that wasn’t quite right – so I was pleasantly surprised to reach the turn-around when I did, much earlier than anticipated. I went from “wow, I’m really struggling to get anywhere in this swim” to “yay!! the turn around already!!!” in a hurry, lol. I felt good getting out of the water and onto to the bike.
This bike course is fantastic – flat, fast, tuck into aero, and go! Wind and heat aside, what an experience to be on that course with almost 3000 other IM athletes! The Whistler bike course felt lonely, but in Arizona there were athletes everywhere – and I loved it. I like loops, so this 3-loop course suited me just fine. That said, the wind and the heat took it out of me – even with my cooling sleeves and with frozen water bottles in my special needs bag – and I took longer on the ride than I had hoped to.
It all caught up to me about 12km into the run. That I had been sick. That I had missed a lot of training. That was was feeling worn out and beat up, both physically and emotionally. That my entire life had changed in the previous years and that I hadn’t let myself feel it (let alone deal with any of it). As the evening got darker, so did my experience. Physically, both feet blistered and the blisters eventually broke. My walk/run became a fast walk, then dissolved into a painful shuffle, and there is remained until I got across the finish line.
Emotionally, I searched desperately for my “why”. I’m pretty sure I will always remember the portion of the course where I was crying and thinking to myself “I am suffering alone in the dark. This is a metaphor for my life, and I don’t want to do this anymore”. For about 25 km, I couldn’t have told you why I was there, and why I was still moving forward. That run course stripped me of all of the things I had been hiding behind, and made me face all the stuff I had been so desperately trying to avoid.
My experience on the run course this time wasn’t one of feeling proud of myself or my accomplishments. Instead, it tasted of guilt and selfishness – I had taken so much time away from my kids, my relationship, my family, and everything else to train for this race – and I couldn’t see my “why”. Meanwhile, my legs kept moving, tears kept flowing, and I resolved to finish so it wouldn’t all have been for nothing. I crossed the finish line, wrapped myself in the foil blanket, inhaled a cheeseburger while lying on the couch, and let it all sink in.
Perhaps THAT was my “why” all along – and that was the gift of the experience. To recognize how much of my experience in day to day life felt as alone in the dark as that race course did.
Every experience is a gift – and the gift of IMAZ was to come face-to-face with myself in an inescapable way. To prove that I can suffer for a really long time, but more importantly – to realize that I can change my relationship with suffering. That suffering was a choice I had been making. In finishing that race, I don’t think there will be room for doubt that I can keep moving forward, no matter what. Even on broken blisters, if that is what it takes. When I talk about this race now, I talk about my gratitude for what I learned in the experience of it all. I’d love to race this course again and bring a better version of myself to it.
It took a few more months (and a bunch more darkness, including the heartbreak of Michael’s ending of our relationship) for me to move out of this dark place. To re-negotiate my relationship with guilt and procrastination and anxiety and depression. To let myself feel all the stuff that I had been trying to out-swim, out-ride, and out-run, and to come out the other side.
It seems that I have found my smiles again. My laugh. My energy. My joy. I don’t feel like I’m suffering alone in the dark anymore. My “why” is different – I’m no longer running away from experiences. Instead, I am running (and swimming and riding) toward my “why’s” and my future, while trying to remember to be present in the moment and take it all in.
And I guess that finding my “why” again felt worth sharing.