My Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’

My Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’

Kara Ironman more squareby Kara R.

My journey to becoming an Ironman started about four years ago when my friend Ariel signed me up for my first indoor triathlon. I remember thinking beforehand that I was definitely going to die. Growing up I was not exactly what you would call athletic. I was the girl on the softball team who struck out every time at bat and was in right field picking daisies more than snagging a pop fly. The thought of running the required mile for gym class was enough to induce panic attacks. Needless to say the day of the indoor tri came and I managed to finish my first endeavor in what would become a passion for me. Managing what at the time seemed like such an “Herculean” effort and the sense of accomplishing that goal led me to ask myself, “Well, what is next?” 5Ks? Check. 10Ks? Done. Half marathon? Got it. Full marathons…. Next. Boom, the Dopey challenge? Ya, that sounds good, let’s do them all in a row! The next to fall were the triathlons. Sprints turned to Olympics and at that point why not hit a half Ironman, I was almost there any way!

It was during training for my first half Ironman that one of my training partners pointed out that we could totally finish a full Ironman. From that point on, completing a full Ironman was all that I could think of. I read everything I could, joined every Facebook group out there, I even went up and volunteered at Ironman Wisconsin. So there I was. Why not sign up for the race?

While I was on a great track I realized that this was not like the other races. I knew I needed that additional support if I was going to accomplish this goal. This was the decision that led to my first meetings with Coach Joe to learn about Personal Coaching services from Experience Triathlon. With his help and the help of my training mates, this was looking more and more like something that I could actually accomplish.

I started working with Coach Joe in the fall of 2014 in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin 2015. Through the winter and spring, my training was going well. There were road bumps but overall I was improving at swim, bike and run. I don’t want to sugar coat it, there were still days when I felt like I was never going to make it through Madison, but day by day and mile by mile I felt myself gaining the confidence and endurance I would need to succeed.

Now this would not be much of a post if something did not go wrong; something always does. The important thing is how you overcome it. Over 4th of July weekend, my fiancé and I went up to Galena to spend some time away. We had such a good time when we went up for the Galena Triathlon that we wanted to go back. Besides, it was the perfect place for us, as I could train and he could golf. I wanted to do a brick workout. I was running one mile, one simple mile, after my bike ride when it happened. I tripped and fell, not some little “Oops, I scuffed my knee” but more of the “Oh my God, the asphalt just ate my leg” variety. Most people when they trip running end up with scraped up knees and hands, while I ended up with what can only be described as a gaping flesh wound.  Undeterred I made it back to my hotel room and of course my first thought was I better send some pictures to my training partners and see what they thought. Can you say injury selfie! After taking the advice of Kris and Ryan to actually go to the ER, I end up with 20 stitches in my knee (yes, you can fit 20 stiches on one knee). I was supposed to be doing Muncie half Ironman the next weekend. My first question to the doctor was if I could still do Muncie. The doctor said of course. (Probably because he didn’t want a hysterical girl while he was trying to stitch up her knee.)

I thought for sure that I would be out for a week of training and able to race Muncie and get back to my Ironman training like I planned. It didn’t work out that way. My knee did not heal up for another five and a half weeks. I couldn’t race Muncie or participate in ET Summer Camp, two things that seemed so important for my Ironman training. During this time, the only exercise I was allowed to do was to arm cycle. I had to give up my streak of running at least a mile a day at day 1293 once my leg was in the immobilizer. I was a roller coaster of emotions during this time because it really felt like my dreams of being able to become an Ironman were slipping away.

Finally after being treated at wound care to get my knee healed up, I was cleared to train. I had a little less than five weeks until Madison. Coach Joe put together a plan for me to get back on track and ramp up all the way until Madison. My taper was completed in July and I had five weeks to be ready for the race. I was so excited to be back but the first two weeks back were extremely tough. It was frustrating that my mile pace was two minutes a mile slower than what I was doing prior to injury.  I couldn’t keep up on the bike with everyone who had been able to train all summer. My body was out of whack from hobbling around keeping my left leg straight for five and a half weeks. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other and following Coach Joe’s customized plan for my situation. I had to trust him!

As I stood in line for packet pick up, I was very anxious. It seemed that everyone else around me was more experienced than me, had better bikes than me, had done this before and of course hadn’t missed five and a half weeks of training.   The DMV has nothing on Ironman packet pickup. Going through packet pick up for Ironman is a very involved process that takes about 15 different stops as you get everything you need. It was getting very real as I went through the process. One of the steps was they weigh you in. My weight was 140.6. It was a sign. I started to calm down and enjoy all of the highlights of Ironman Wisconsin. The welcome banquet where the announcer and voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, talked about my training partner, Ryan, and his stroke recovery story, was inspiring. Seeing all of the runners in the underwear run: strange… but inspiring. The last workout with my ET teammates, my God, it was really happening! My day before chat outside Starbucks with Coach Joe. The ET team dinner the night before. All these events were rounding out the count down and almost kept me too busy to worry.

The morning of the race, I woke up to no less than three different alarm clocks (just in case) and felt surprisingly calm. There was nothing to do except to master the course and become an Ironman. Throughout the race, my mantra was “smart, steady and strong.” Every swim stroke, bike pedal or step was just a little bit closer to my dream. It was amazing to see my family and the world famous ET Cheer Crew on the course. Knowing exactly where everyone would be to give me a big hug or just to yell my name was a huge pick me up. One of my favorite moments was when Coach Joe ran up the second hill with me on my second loop of the bike to see how I was doing and all I could say was, “I love you, Coach!” Seeing the other ET athletes that I had spent so much time with over the previous year helped too.

It is hard to describe the feeling when you cross the finish line of Ironman Wisconsin but when I think about that moment, it still gives me chills. I am an Ironman!

Enjoy all the pictures of our amazing weekend in Madison on the ET Photo Gallery!

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  • Drew Repoza

    Congratulations on a great race, Kara! Way to overcome adversity and stay strong!

  • Congrats again, Kara, on your amazing day!! So proud of how you pushed through all the demons and got this done in style. Chasing you up that hill was certainly one of the highlights of my day too! Thanks for taking time to share your journey and experience with the world. It will most certainly inspire others to keep on believin’ 🙂