Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ironman Cozumel Run: race report

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
-Mary Oliver

As per usual in ironman, I got some random quote jammed up in my brain at the beginning of the training cycle.  Because I can't just show up and race, I have to feel all my feelings and crap along the way.  I'm not sure why this one was so powerful to me lately other than acknowledging how strongly I needed to internalize the last line: I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.  I want to leave a big fucking dent in the planet when I go, I want there to be a hole in the space left by my absence, I don't want to just visit and quietly depart, I want to make a gigantic mess, leave a permanent scar, have a tiny part of the world ring with silence when I evaporate into nothing.  And what that looked like this fall was this: I didn't want to hide from all of my shit, not anymore, not ever again.  I drew in, certainly; I closed down my circle around the ways and people I spent time and energy on, perhaps more than I ever have.  But there is a difference between drawing in to try and find strength and hiding out of weakness.  I knew that closing into my small piece of the world wouldn't be forever, and I knew that I didn't want to come out swinging and full of fire, but instead: calm, steady, buoyant (heel-striking at mile 1, start as you mean to go on).
I had a pacing plan for the day, and I ran less than 2 minutes before realizing that stubbornly forcing my body to stick to that plan would be a bonehead mistake (I dodged this one but made a few others, follow along in your book).  When I went through the first aid station, I pitched my bottle (sorry, Stacy) and walked for a minute, taking in some Gatorade or whatever orange crap was on the course plus water, packing ice everywhere I could reach.  I was watching athletes coming back on the other side of the road, and I could see that everyone was miserable, drenched, suffering.  I got off the bike quite a bit sooner than the last time I was in Cozumel, where I only had a couple miles in the sun before it started to set, and that made a difference.  I don't hate racing in the heat, I prefer to be cold but I would also prefer for my thighs to fit inside skinny jeans and to not already need special eye cream at night and to be able to eat skittles without getting a sugar headache twenty minutes later so, what I think I'm trying to say is, I wasn't crabby about the heat, I knew what to do and what to expect and how to manage myself without getting all whiny about it.  

It was somewhere in the first lap when I fell into the walk-trance, though, just for a few minutes.  I went through an aid station and gathered and packed my goodies, and then didn't start to run again.  I don't even know why.  I wasn't watching lap pace or wearing a heart rate strap or even looking at the watch at all, but I felt it vibrate and looked down to see a mile split in the 12s and that felt like a slap, hey-o, wake up, let's go.  You are better than this, I said as I continued to chat with myself like a lunatic.  You are a better athlete than walking most of a marathon just because it’s a little bit warm, so how about if you get your shit together, suck it up, and get moving.  (And maybe, close your mouth).
So I did.  I wasn't running fast but I was rolling right along and pretty soon I was heading back into town.  I saw the awesome support team of our house planted in the shade at a restaurant drinking margaritas and that made me happy (with only a tiny side of burning envy).  Spectating can be rough, especially with three of us out there to keep track of, so I was glad they were having fun.  I walked next to the poet for a minute while taking some Pepto tabs, I told him that my gut was just okay but my brain was completely fine, I felt like I was managing the heat and the day and I wanted him to know that he didn't have to be worried.  He was so anxious about me returning to this race, he always frets when I'm racing ironman but this one generated a bit more stress for a lot of reasons based on my history of breaking bones and having massive race-ending meltdowns off the bike.  So when I passed him the first time on the run, it was really important to me to show him that I was happy, that there were no problems at all, I was doing work, quietly chugging through the day.  
The second lap I started to take it a bit personally that the sun was still up although we did get some shade at the far end of the loop.  I saw both of my athletes which was reassuring, one of them looked great, the other one made a sad face and rubbed her belly as she went by, so I stopped and gave her one of my little baggies of Pepto & Immodium and barked at her as part of the circle of life of coaches and athletes all over the world, You know what to do here so FIGURE IT OUT.  My feet were hurting, although I guess it's fair to say that by that point everything was hurting because it's an ironman and it hurts, no shit sherlock like the kids say.  This was the squashed, blistered, over-saturated running-on-knives hurt that I know well after many hot and damp races, I knew that a blister bonanza was going on in my shoes and I didn't want to look down and see but it felt like I was up to my ankles in bloody sludge.  Making it through the thirteen-mile mark felt good, all of my (many) ironman meltdowns have happened in the first half and once I'm counting miles down instead of up, a great deal of my anxiety drops away and it feels like rolling sweetly down into the finish.  All of my fear was about the first hour or two off of the bike and to find peace there felt like so much success, even with another 13 miles to go (seriously, close your mouth).  
Coming back into town the second time, I passed another one of Michelle’s athletes walking and gave him shit as I trotted by (turns out I’m a jackass because he cracked his heel jumping off the dock at the swim start, sorry Kevin).  It was nice to see a face I knew, though, and I realized how isolated I felt out there the whole day.  And I don’t think that was bad, I was doing my own thing, taking care of myself, staying in my little bubble. When I went by the poet and Rosalyn again I waved and said oh my God it hurts so bad (which they actually caught on video and it's hysterical & I can't stop sharing it with people), but I was smiling and they laughed and cheered, I looped through the turn and headed back out, two down, one to go.

I had been handling nutrition fine so far, drinking little cups of Pepsi, holding ice in my hands, mixing water & gatorade the right way because I have learned something from Stacy even if it’s not to eat or drink anything I have packed once I'm off the bike.  But when I started that last loop, the only thing in my head was okay, less than nine miles and this is finished, let’s close this out, I am ready for the day to be done.  So when I left town, I put my head down and I ran.  Not all that hard, but harder than I had been, and focusing on nothing but closing the gap between where I was and the time when I could take off my shoes and eat six pieces of terrible pizza in a row.  Letting my arms be relaxed, trying to keep my shoulders back and feet under me although I’m sure I looked like hell by then, I spent at least a mile repeating with each step I DO NOT HAVE TO WALK.  It was all going fine until I went past the mile 22 sign and suddenly felt a little hazy and realized that I hadn’t put anything in my mouth for well over an hour and I was about to bonk to holy hell and back (dumbass mistake #1).  So I slowed to a walk at the next aid station, I broke out a pack of chews in my pocket and ate them all, plus two cups of Pepsi plus a little cup of hard pretzels plus some Gatorade plus some water (dumbass mistake #2).  I jogged only about five minutes before my stomach revolted from eating way too much at once and - SPLAT - there went all my calories on the ground.  I started to feel pissed, these are dumb mistakes and I know better (although in my defense probably no one is high-functioning 22 miles into the ironman marathon).  
I walked for a couple of minutes and that’s when my negative brain moved in for the kill: I should be running hard back to town and instead I’m walking because I made a stupid mistake.  But then something I learned this fall came into focus: just because I’ve made a mistake, it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person.  And more importantly, the eight billionth thing I've learned from reading all the Brene Brown: When we deny our stories, they define us.  When we own our stories, we get to write the ending.  I spent all day feeling in control of my decisions - my reactions - and to throw that away at mile 23 would be such a waste.  I knew that I could probably yell enough mean things at myself to really get hauling, I could puke my way home, but I've never seen so clearly that I get to write the ending.  And I decided that I didn’t want to write the last thirty minutes of my day angry, digging, pushing, suffering.  I wanted to spend it thankful, for everything I’ve gone through that has brought me back.  I chose to be happy.  I chose to jog as much as I could, to walk a little if I thought I was going to barf again.  To thank all the volunteers, to high-five every little kid in those final miles, to say good job to every athlete that I went by, to smile broadly and gratefully the last thirty minutes of what can only be described as a solid day, start to finish.  I chose to let that cost me a couple of minutes, and it was worth every single one.  I laughed like a loon every step of the last quarter-mile or so, beyond thrilled with the day I chose, I took in the cheers of all the spectators lining the streets and too soon, the finish rose up before me and it was over.  Finished.  Line to line, my way.  (Close your mouth.  Open your eyes.  Pull down your shirt.  Sweet Jesus, as my friend Ashley says, this might just be a lost cause).
Run: 26.2 miles, 4:36:33
140.6 miles: 12:07:19, 12th AG

In the days (now weeks) that have passed since the race, my brain is so quiet.  Silent.  Sated.  I didn't even want to talk about the day for a while, I simply wanted to hug it close to me and keep it for myself, my contentment, it's mine, alone.  Now, the first question everyone has is: do I believe that I have a faster race in me?  Of course I do, and I’ve already plonked down my $700 for the next try.  But I'm not looking forward, not yet.  The goal in Cozumel wasn’t to see how fast I could go, even though that's what I believed heading into the race.  I discovered instead, with a little over three miles to go, that what I wanted was to be happy.  To feel peaceful, in control, strong, steady, for there to be no drama of any sort, to not care at all about the athletes around me or what else was going on in race but instead to truly make this one for me.  And that's exactly what I did.  It's what I said I wanted going into Boulder but that turned out not to be true.  Here, I thought I wanted to go fast, and it turns out I don't give a fuck how fast I went.  The first time I looked up any of my official times was when I sat down to vomit out these posts.  I haven't looked at any of the other athletes in my age group, who finished in front of me or behind me, who I passed and who passed me where, what the fastest bike splits were, how far off the front I ended up, none of that, because I honestly do not give a single shit about any of it.  And that is so liberating.  When I posted the I'm done! selfie on Facebook later that night with a mouthful of cotton candy I said, That was the greatest expression of self-love I have ever experienced in my entire life and that's exactly and all that it was.  I could have easily given away that happiness with three miles to go, I could have decided to flaggelate myself or hand it off to other athletes, people, the critics that surround my own personal arena, and instead I turned all of that down and chose me.  Success, this day, is mine (obviously no selfie will go unshared).
And it feels good.  Damn, it feels so much better than good, it feels completely fucking amazing.  I am happy.  With my day, my race, but more importantly, with the life I am choosing over and over, the story that I have continued to write.  I have made mistakes this year, I am tired of discussing my own failures, but I think that so much of my issue with ironman has been a suffocating fear of success.  But now I have it, by my own definition, and I want to luxuriate here for a while before I leap happily into whatever the future will bring.
Ironman isn't about anyone else.  It shouldn't be.  It should be about me, and what I want to get from it, and nothing more.  Everyone does ironman for different reasons.  I know what mine are, I own those reasons, and I'm finally experiencing the freedom of not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks about my why.  I had lunch with one of my newer athletes last week, and he asked me, you've done seven of these, why do you keep doing them?  And I smiled, and then laughed, and told him the honest truth.  Because I love it.  I love the training, I love my bike, I love the day, but better than anything else, I love the way my own path as a human is so dirty and awkward and deeply intertwined with this process.  I love what I learn about myself, every single time I go through it.  I love that ironman has taught me how much I love to feel so fucking strong.  Over time, the highs and lows have come closer together and on this day they smoothed into slightly over twelve hours of contentment, of moving my body and loving every minute.  And if there is something on this planet that makes you absolutely explosive with joy, why would you ever stop?  (Spoken like a true addict).

None of this would be nearly as fun, of course, without my people.  Michelle, you believed in me long before I knew how to believe in myself, and now that I'm finally learning how, I can't wait to see what kind of heel-striking swimming-every-day too-much-deadlifting elephant-heart happy triathlete-Frankenstein we piece together for the next one.  Erin, Charlie, Julie, Geoff: I'm so freakin' lucky to have gathered all of you up around me over the past few years and I'm thankful that you are all still here after the ups and downs of the last six months (you are all still here, right?).  OSMO & Normatec, I would be lost without you.  All my girls, spread out all over the globe, you held me together when I fell apart.  
And my husband, I don't talk about our story so much in this blog because it is not only my story to share, but you are a single place in this world that I can always go to feel unconditionally safe, protected, supported, cherished, loved.  I'm so glad that the little video I have of the finish line has your big huge loud voice yelling in it, because finally discovering this kind of success would be incomplete without you, simply, as I've said before, the best man I have ever known.