Three words I never thought of when I said I’m going to do an Ironman
I’m still taking the whole race day in and thinking I can’t believe it is all over. Really, all those months of training and it is done? Wow, that was a fast day. Sort of like planning for a wedding, months of preparation go into the day and then suddenly in a blink of an eye it is over. You are thinking I have really lost it comparing an Ironman to a wedding? No, just that the day went so fast and I just never thought it would. Coach Joe said, “Take it all in, enjoy the day. You will never have another first.” Yes, he was right and I am so glad I listened but it still went too fast just the same. I was glad I took Coach’s advice to arrive early to check in, recheck and double check, have a pep talk, shed a couple of tears and still have time to sit quietly alone and mentally go through the day, transitions, the what if’s and what lay ahead.
There are so many thoughts swirling around in my head! I am just trying to get them all onto paper while they are so fresh knowing Coach Joe always wants you to write about your experience while it is fresh. The three words that keep coming back to me through all these months of training and now that I have a minute to catch my breath are: journey, transformation and support. I never thought of doing an Ironman as a journey nor did I think it would transform my life the way it has, and I had no idea how much support I would receive along the way in so many different ways.
Journey– I always associated journey with a long trip… Hmm, well I guess in a way Ironman is a long trip, you just don’t realize when signing up that you are making the commitment that in the end it is a long trip of sorts. The only trips I had planned this summer were to various races and camp. I kept telling my husband, “I need to book one more hotel…” Yes, there are many small trips that add up and make it a journey. There are many trips… to and from track practices, bike rides, long runs, camp, other triathlons and all the other places you journey to put your time in. Yes, it is a journey and one that I was so under prepared for. I packed my bags, bought a new bike (thanks Coach Joe and Mo at Spokes Wheaton for helping me with the bike), clothes, shoes, supplements and gizmos to help me train. Among my training friends, some, like me, were new to the journey, others had smaller triathlons under their belt and still others had already been on this journey to Ironman and knew what lay ahead. In some ways ignorance is bliss I suppose. If I had seen what lay ahead, I am not sure I would have signed on. Well, yes, I would have since Ironman was on my bucket list. Coach Joe told me he only gives us seven days of work outs at a time as “life happens.” Yep, that’s good, life does happen and things come up and changes and alterations need to be made. So I kept my bags packed, added additional supplies to my bags and kept moving forward. One day, one practice, one race, one ride at a time… the ultimate goal being to cross the Ironman finish line.
Transformation– that word keeps coming back to me in so many different ways. So many of my new tri friends, my coaches, my kids and my husband say what a transformation they have seen in me. Again, another word I would never have associated with training for an Ironman. The other Ironman athletes seemed to have it all together, be in great shape and have much more experience than I did. I felt so clueless coming in last January, as it had been years since my last triathlon. And those had always been sprint triathlons. Naïve? Yep, that was me.
No idea how to hook my bike up to Computrainer? No worries, there was always someone there who could help me out and explain how to do things. We sweated our way through the winter and into spring which lasted so long that Computraining was extended. Hmm, this might not be good? Oh well, I added a couple of extra weeks to stay in shape. Seriously, we could have stayed in most of the summer as each Sunday ride seemed to always bring the rain, wind and for a lot of the summer cold temperatures. These were not my favorite! I am a California girl and have never liked Midwest winters! Someone forgot to tell me transitioning off Computraining to outside is like coming out of the dark into the light. I remember that first bike ride out of Commissioners Park and riding with the group. Yikes, there was a lot of keep track of, potholes to watch for, lots of people, and I wore the wrong jacket. Coach Joe was probably thinking good grief why is she is a wearing that, but he never said anything. He dropped back to stay with me and told me to fall in behind him and he would pull me along… and he did. I did take my jacket off on the way home and things definitely improved, along with the wind being at our backs. I had a fleeting thought of all these months of computraining and I was dying on my first long ride. More work to do… Plug on, that is what I kept telling myself.
Most of you have seen the physical transformation. Yes, I lost 35 pounds – not easy for post menopausal women to do but the weight kept slipping off and I was eating a ton! Mondays I found I was always craving anything with salt to make up for the weekend intensity- I could have licked a salt lick dry I craved salt so much, which was crazy with the number of salt pills I had consumed during the weekend training!
What you couldn’t see was the transformation going on in my head. The days turned into weeks that turned into months. I saw myself getting stronger, still at the back of the group at track practices but I could feel myself getting stronger. I pictured running across that finish line a million times: I was going to do it! Those cold winter/spring days and going out and running when it was so cold that my fuel belt froze in the first five minutes out. I couldn’t bear the thought of running on the treadmill, since that would take forever! My husband tried to talk me into staying inside. Nope, I was determined to run outside. I’m slower on the treadmill and so I prefer to run outside and have plenty of layers to put on! The days it rained and I sloshed through the wind and the rain, soaked and cold when I came home. Then the heat and humidity- cramping and soaked from head to toe when I came home. I keep telling myself keep on going, the prize is the finish line.
During the day in and day out, you don’t see the mental transformation. After all, I was so exhausted from work and training that I’d fall into bed already asleep before my head ever hit the pillow. As you go through taper, you have more time to actually think and you begin to put all the pieces together and realize just how far you have come and what an amazing transforming journey you are about to complete. I stood in awe as to where all the time had gone.
Weeks had warped into months in one of the fastest years of my life. I said to a friend on our last group ride before Ironman, “I remember riding these roads when there were no crops planted and it was windy, rainy and cold. Then summer came, seeds sprouted and turned green and grew, and now the corn stands tall and browning and soybeans are yellowing. How have we come into fall already? It was just spring and there was nothing!” Journey, I had been on the journey and had not even realized it until I had a chance to take a breath and was able to stop and reflect.
Support– I knew that by joining the Experience Triathlon family and signing up for Personal Coaching services with Coach Joe, I would meet some new people and make new friends. After all, that was on my goal list in the initial questionnaire form that asked what three things I wanted to accomplish. #1-Finish the Ironman, #2-stay injury free and #3-make new friends. I diverge here to tell a quick story about seeing other friends and ET members at a neighborhood Christmas party and when I told them my goals, they said something like, “My goal was not to poop in my pants.” Huh? That thought had never crossed my mind… maybe I needed to re-evaluate my goals? Yikes! My goals were pretty basic. Should I be thinking bigger than what I had? They definitely scared me with those thoughts!
First and foremost I got a ton of support from my family. My husband was my biggest support. He encouraged, supported and was a shoulder to cry on when I hit my breaking point from exhaustion towards the end of the summer. I had asked him last year if he would support me doing an Ironman and naturally he said yes. He joked and said he knew I was having an affair with Ironman. I told him at least he knew who I was having the affair with! LOL. He never got upset when I called or texted, “Still out in the boondocks, won’t be home for dinner. Out another 2 hours.” Or when I was running late again after another Sunday ride that always ran longer than I anticipated. Additionally, each of my family members supported and encouraged me along the way. Scotty encouraged me through the winter and would give me stretching and lifting suggestions and correct my form- nothing like having my own strength and conditioning coach at my disposal! He had just graduated and was living at home working and it was nice to see that college education paying off. Justin in his tender ways would give me the most wonderful hugs and encouraging words I needed while he was home all summer. He always was attentive to mom when I had a rough day and needed a hug. Stephanie was my constant phone cheerleader each day as she worked at school for most of the summer so we talked almost daily on my way home from work or to bike rides or track practice. I received endless support on what a great job I was doing. I could not have crossed the finish line without them by my side. Additionally, my Aunt Moon, whom I know many of you had the pleasure of meeting during the weekend, constantly supported me and then came to cheer me on. We joked that she was running for mayor of Madison by the end of the weekend as she makes friends everywhere she goes and talks to everyone. She is just one of those people that has that great personality!
Additionally, I got support from all the ET coaches, not only Coach Joe but the others that lead computraining – Sarah, Jim, Chilly; coach Bob at track practice and group rides; and the team dietitian, Laurie. Instead of a three sport discipline it should be four sports as diet makes a huge difference. I am forever grateful for Laurie being available 24/7 and trekking out to complete our sweat tests on some of those rides in not so nice weather. Additionally for all the invaluable advice she gave me specifically on how I wanted to eat and what I could and couldn’t tolerate. I made new friends and got closer to old friends. There was always someone ready to help and support me in any way. As my journey continued so did the friendships and support. It continued to grow exponentially. I will forever be grateful to some of the guys that know who they are that dropped back to ride with me at the back of the pack on some of those initial rides. To the one guy that said, “Try riding in the aero position. This is the perfect place to try it and you will be faster in this wind.” To those that smiled and told bad jokes and to those that I laughed so hard with I thought I was going to fall off my bike! When you spend hours and hours training with the same group of your ET family you find your comfort with each other grows. Soon you find yourself talking about everything and anything and some things you never even imagined you would be asking about or sharing. The ET family provided so much support- not only along the way but also at all the events! My husband was so impressed with everyone at Ironman Racine 70.3, the ET Family Picnic and wow, that amazing world famous ET Cheer Crew at Ironman Wisconsin! It is so exciting to see and hear so many people cheering for you. I never felt alone during this journey.
I know you are going to think I am crazy when I tell you this but the day of Ironman flew! Yes, I said flew… I will tell you for those that have been to Madison, swum the course or similar courses you can actually see the buoys at Ironman. On the bike course the day flies when all those streets you have waited to patiently cross are all blocked off and you fly through the intersections without even slowing down. Yes, the day goes fast. And the run! I was so happy to have run the course at camp and had a new friend telling me about all the highlights of the campus that I was recalling during my marathon.
Another thing: you are never alone out there race day. When I entered the water and saw the sunrise I swam out to the spot I wanted to start at and who should I find but two guys I swim with, Glenn and Craig. It was great to get a hug, chat and wish each other good luck! I met so many great people along the way; we talked, shared stories and inspired each other. A couple of guys that I ended up walking with said they would “let me go first and cross the finish line solo since it was my first.” I told them I would go behind them but they insisted on letting me go first. How amazing was it to hear Mike Reilly, the Voice of Ironman, call my name as a first time Ironman? One of the best things to ever hear!
I’m sure the journey and transformation will be totally different for my next trip. After all, I am an Ironman. I will be at a different place in my life and hopefully not trying to balance full time work, home and training all at the same time. But if I have to, I know I can do it. Additionally I’m hardly naïve to all the changes that will occur. Someone told me swimmers never win Ironman races… Guess what? They are wrong. I WON!! I finished and I am an IRONMAN. I imagine that everyone has a different journey with each Ironman. What I know is that I would do almost everything the same… hire a coach, hire a dietitian, go to track practice, listen to all the tidbits of knowledge everyone gives me and then pick and choose what I will keep and disregard, and take advantage of everything that ET offers me. Having so much support really made my journey easier and fun! I laughed, I cried, I sweated, I cramped but I kept training and looking forward to the prize: crossing the finish line and hearing my name called as an Ironman.
Yes, I’m checking Ironman off my bucket list for now but there will be a round two. I’m only 51 years young – plenty of time to train again. And honestly, I am inspired by those older than me both on the Ironman course and in the pool that are still in there competing at State meets, Nationals and World Championships. I want to be just like them when I grow up! Stay tuned for Ironman #2 in 2017! Cheers to all that take this journey. It is a great journey and one I know you will be successful at!
Enjoy all the pictures of our amazing weekend in Madison on the ET Photo Gallery!