Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ironman New Zealand Run: race report

I am a good friend.
I don't do a lot right in life, that's for damn sure.  People make me nervous, awkward; if I don't know you I am highly likely to stuff my foot down my throat at the first opportunity.  There's still a lot of that shy kid that didn't have any friends until the seventh grade left in me and I don't make new friends easily.  And I have a lot of flaws as a human in general, but friendship, I know how to do that right.  I am fiercely loyal.  I am trustworthy; if you confide in me - and for whatever reason, plenty of people do - it goes in the vault.  I am thoughtful, although sometimes in quite the belated fashion, I will remember your birthday but it will probably take me five months to mail you a card.  I will drag you on random adventures that you will agree to because I don't give you the chance to say no, I will surprise you with baked goods instead of actually saying, you matter.  If we are friends, I will have your back like no one ever has and there are no exceptions to that rule.  I will also probably drive you crazy.  I can only send text messages four at a time and at least one of them is a photo, I ask a lot of weird questions, I never return phone calls because it's 2017 and who freaking uses the phone for talking anymore and when I get launched into a rant it takes an incredible effort to slow it to a stop.  I am not a perfect friend but trust me, you want me to be your friend.  Because almost all of the time, I am awesome at it.  I will show up for you when everything is shit; when you are furious at the world and have completely shut down - like I do when I can no longer deal - I will poke you until you explode with fury at how completely annoying I am and then I will talk you through it and I will make you laugh and I will never let you down.  
I (obviously) re-read Rising Strong at some point about a month before this race, and there's an excerpt dealing with the concept of people doing the best they can.  I stole this idea and turned it into one of the weird questions I ask: Do you believe that, in general, people are doing the best they can?  It's been on my mind a lot.  I've screened some recent sour experiences through this question, and in many cases, it has drained the anger and frustration dry.  I do believe that everyone, in general, is doing the best they can, but I have a hard time accepting that of myself, my past, my mistakes.  I have a hard time believing that I couldn't have found a way, in so many moments, to simply be better, to be more.  Enough.

I ran along the lake, the first mile, about as easily as I could.  I have never gone out too hard in ironman, one of my many weaknesses is trusting that the run I want is there.  The first mile is friendly but I was still surprised when it clicked over.  8:55.  Exactly what I wanted, exactly right, and I exclaimed, good girl! in my head while simultaneously slowing to a walk.  It was the strangest thing, a total disconnect between mind and body, like my brain was behind a wall of glass. 
Startled, I started running again, trying to troubleshoot.  I slowed at the first aid station, coke bananas chews electrolytes, I was putting in as much as I dared and nothing was changing.  I knew enough to give it time, to be patient and let everything absorb, so I kept moving, trying not to lose too much time while my body figured it out.  I was asking myself as I went, is this it?  Am I doing the best I can?  Right now?  It was, every time, but I couldn't figure out why.  The desire was there.  The body was not.

And here's the part I don't want to talk about, because I am both embarrassed and frustrated as hell.  I've been putting it off, I actually considered just moving on without a mention, letting whatever tiny world believe what it may.  But right or wrong, that isn't me.  I posted it somewhere in the days following the race that I believe that having the courage to be vulnerable is one of the most powerful things we can experience. Faking relentless positivity or burying our struggle instead of owning our story does a disservice to ourselves as well as to the world around us.  So here we go, facedown on the arena floor: I fainted because of the heat. 
It's embarrassing because I didn't think it was that hot, because it makes me feel stupid and weak, like a pansy, because I hate drama, and because all I wanted was to quietly roll through the plan of my day and execute the race that I fucking know is in there.  It's frustrating because I didn't think it was that hot and I haven't struggled with heat for years, and that's because if I had a brain in my skull I would have been doing things for the three hours prior to this to cool myself.  I think the wind was deceptive in the second half of the last bike lap, I think in my head it was March and no one gets too hot in March, I think that this race has a huge history of being freezing cold, pouring with rain or blasting with wind so no one considered that it might be hot, and I think that all of those things are just foolish excuses and I hate excuses.  I hate all of it, and over two weeks later I'm still embarrassed, frustrated, and just plain mad.  At myself.  Always at myself.  

There's a minute or two missing between reaching for a volunteer's hand at an aid station and thinking, I should tell her that I feel lightheaded and sitting in the back of a random truck.  The medic at the aid station called the bike paramedic and asked me a thousand questions about everything I had eaten and drank all day, how much I had been peeing, I had all the right answers, nothing should have been wrong.  He commented, well, it's pretty hot out, and I'm sure I sounded like an asshole when I replied in disdain, no, it's not, this is not hot.  The paramedic showed up on the bike and said the same, we've pulled quite a few people already, it's over 28 degrees, and I cried out in sheer exasperation, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS!

They were kind, of course they were.  I'm thankful even though I was a terrible patient, I wouldn't let them take my blood pressure or my pulse because I didn't want there to be a reason to pull me.  And when they finally brought me cold towels, that was it, they draped me in ice and everything cleared in an instant.  Which pissed me off even more, because if I had done that at mile one, I might be at mile nine by now, not sitting in the grass like some kind of dejected and delicate flower that isn't tough, not enough.

I got pretty upset, sitting there, watching the seconds tick away on my still-running Garmin and my day wash down the drain.  It took quite a bit of arguing with the paramedics to be allowed to continue.  Finally, one agreed that I could keep going with a long list of conditions, one of which was walking at least until the next aid station, another that he ride next to me on his bike that far.  And these things are a monumental kindness, I am aware of that, and I went and found most of these people after the race to thank them profusely, but in the moment, I was mortified.  At some point while I was walking with my bike escort and his huge sign that said, PARAMEDIC, one of the pro women went by with her bike escort, fighting, running strong, exactly the way I had hoped to attack the day.  That was it, that was rock bottom.  
I'm not sure the remainder of the run really bears detailed discussion.  I got back to town and with no small amount of fire in my britches, updated my amazing support team on what had happened and strict instructions to tell no one but my husband because I did not want there to be drama, anywhere.  I checked in at medical as instructed but headed pretty quickly back out into the second lap, where I behaved and walked all the aid stations while stuffing my face with bananas and coke and pretzels.  I was finishing the second lap when one of the guys I had run the first mile with came up behind me and said, hey, how did you get in front of me? and I just gave him a wave.  He was headed into the finish, he had run the roughly-four-hours we had chatted about and I was headed out to run 8+ more miles, and any heart, any fight I had left blew right out of me, right then, right there.  It's still gone.

I finished, of course I did, but that story is not a new one.  I have shown many times that when something blows up, I can get through.  I am headstrong as fuck, I have the grit to get to the line.  All I wanted was a day where I could be stubborn and resolute without something ridiculous and embarrassing happening along the way.  Zippers breaking, wasps, dropping nutrition, a nosebleed, even flat tires or blisters or epic waves in the lake, these are what I would consider normal bumps in any ironman.  We prepare for these unexpected things, we handle them calmly and without emotion, we keep fighting.  
There was a moment, once I got running again somewhere after the 10K point, where I had the thought, I'm going to run 19 miles at the pace I had planned to run, just to prove I can, because fuck this day.  And I did run a couple of miles at that pace, it was in there, but my heart wasn't in it.  Because, why?  Why wreck the living shit out of myself for nineteen fast miles after sitting on the side of the road for who-even-knows-how-long?  What is that going to teach me that I don't already know?  And I know that's not the gritty choice, the brave choice, the never-say-die choice, but it felt like such a waste.  I could not see a single thing that I would gain from making that choice, and I'm probably going to be lambasted for sounding like a spoiled brat, but here's the thing.  I can be pissed off and frustrated without also being ungrateful or feeling sorry for myself.  My gratitude is huge and overwhelming.  I had a month of brilliant opportunity: to travel, to train, to race, to experience all of these phenomenal things.  I was healthy enough to start, strong in mind and body, but all I wanted to do was finish the day feeling proud of what I had done.  More importantly, to make everyone in my life that gives so much to me, all the people that want nothing more for me than to feel happy and successful, proud.  And instead, I did what I've done before.  Something blew up, I came around, I trudged it in.  I let them all down; I let myself down.  Again.

I have enough clarity to see that there is a lot of good spread across this day and when I'm done throwing toys out of the pram (a British expression a new friend taught me in Hawaii that perfectly describes how I feel), I will be able to appreciate those things.  I also was mature enough (I think) to not let it wreck the rest of my time in New Zealand.  I had a fantastic visit wandering through the north island and eating chocolate for dinner and drinking five cups of coffee a day, many of them at least marginally resembling what I thought I had ordered.  
I spent a lot of time with a wonderful friend who fills up my life with light on a regular basis and who gives me more in our friendship than I could ever hope to return.  I swam in the sea, I drove around the bays, I walked on beaches and explored trails and climbed up tiny mountains and ate weird things from small town bakeries and the whole month was an experience that I will never forget, that I will cherish forever.  I am lucky, I do know that, I work hard but my life is lucky, I see it every day.
However, the embarrassing frustrating disappointment has not yet lifted.  I'm probably not handling it well, I'm feeling a little worn down in life from exasperation on many fronts right now.  But I'm doing the best I can.  It's not perfect, it's not stoic or incessantly positive or private or maybe the way anyone else would handle it.  I have somehow turned into a sensitive emotional human being that tends to over-think and over-analyze every situation, and this is no exception.  I am horrific at asking for support when I need it.  I am much more likely to angrily stuff all the feelings under a rock and then go ride my bike over them rather than talk to anyone, but I've been trying to reach out, mostly failing miserably and retreating right back into my cave of crankiness.  Advice has come from well-meaning friends in every direction: sign up for another one right away, walk away from ironman forever (hashtag verklempt), take a year off, make XYZ changes in training, start racing again ASAP, but the best help came in the form of a gentle reminder that I don't actually have to decide anything yet.  That it is okay to be really fucking frustrated with the fact that I still haven't been able to race this distance in a way that demonstrates my true fitness, and to sit with myself just like I would sit with a friend that is angry at the world, to accept that I will simply be pissed off until I get tired of it (which I almost am, praise allah).  So right or wrong, I'm trying.  It's all I have right now.  And maybe that is the one thing I've learned, the single positive experience that I can currently see from this day in reflection.  I was doing the best I can.