A Grateful Heart
It’s dawn on Thanksgiving morning. There is already a bit of snow on the ground and apparently this Thanksgiving in Chicago will be one of the coldest in 58 years so they say … but sitting with a cup of coffee and sweet potatoes cooking for the meal later in the day, I am grateful.
This is supposed to be my race report from Ironman Wisconsin 2014 but already I can tell this report has a deeper meaning for me. It is not about my splits or the logistics of the race so much as it is an attempt to capture the essence of Ironman. I have been a runner since high school and I have had that desire to compete in my bones ever since I can remember. My father was a collegiate athlete and coach and I guess some things rubbed off. And I learned early of the life lessons to be gained by competing in sports.
My first Ironman was a story of survival. I was unsure of my ability to even complete the race, intensifying the emotions and basically scaring the poo out of me. I was a nervous wreck. The day brought amazing highs and painful lows filled with pain and exhaustion, but I finished, which was the goal. In preparation for this, my second IM, there was a different plan and a different set of reasons for signing up to once again meet my demons.
It has often been said in my profession that life is an inside out job … which for me means that for the world and our place in it to make sense we have to keep journeying further and further inside ourselves to find the core of who we are. Stripping away layers of superficiality we find our soul. And so began the impetus for Ironman number 2.
As athletes, we often have unfinished business with some races. My first IM was me coming to the edge and not expecting this. I had unfinished business and I was also in a much different place in my life that was more positive and supportive and I wanted a redo. One of the things I love most about this distance is that there are so many unknowns when racing for hours and hours. The breaking point reveals itself in this race. You come right up to what you perceive are your physical limits … and then you have to take the journey inward to complete it. And when you are pushed to that uncomfortable place is where you meet your soul. That sort of gift comes with great effort and to a certain degree, brokenness. Glimpses of the soul emerge in the rubble of life. This race offers up the same stage, allowing the recognition of the greatness of the human spirit … in the midst of the pain and furthermore because of the pain. It is ironic that the things that offer the greatest potential for change and personal and athletic growth are the same things that first have to break us down.
So knowing what was in store for me, I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin again. This time, the focus became more about the process and sets of goals. Madison has a special place in my heart. I went to school there and feel a special connection to this school and town. And so it began when we arrived early Thursday to pick up packets to avoid the rush. Best decision ever. We were in and out in under an hour with no lines at all. A nice relaxing dinner followed by a relaxing swim. Excitement built on Friday as more athletes pour into the city. You could feel the excitement in the air. I decided to go shopping and break every race rule by buying new gear … but I got such a great deal, I really did have to buy it or it would have haunted me the next day!
Figuring out what to put in race bags is always a process … that took me an hour! Fast forward to my talk with Coach Joe, who always has a pulse on my mental state just by looking in my eyes. He could see I was calm and said I was ready. Those of you who know me know I will never say, “I’m gonna crush this race” or some other phrase predicting my success before I even step up to the line. The truth is, I get nervous every time I start a race. I question my ability … every time. That is one of my demons. This year I didn’t question my ability to finish, I questioned my ability to stay in the zone and race my race, not be tempted to chase the butterflies on the bike and end up walking the marathon. But the other feeling I was feeling was an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Gratitude is now the cornerstone of my racing life and my personal life. I don’t ever want to feel I am “going to crush it.” I want to always feel the opportunity for the race to try to crush me so I can find out what I am made of … of what I can endure and to always remain open to what transformation a race holds for me.
This race was no different. The swim for me was basically uneventful except I always feel I am swimming faster than I really am, but it is with sweet relief I exit the water … every time! The transition was smooth onto the bike thanks to the help of Maxine as she helped me dress then sent me off with a smack on the lips!! Almost immediately I had nausea on the bike … something I had never had before. Several times I felt like puking and I was racking my brain trying to understand why now I was having stomach issues. Therefore the bike was more challenging than I had hoped, but once again … the day serves up what it will and it’s our job as athletes to decide how to handle that. Quick transition off the bike and it was time to the run. I literally ran from port a potty to port a potty. Turns out all I had was gas, but in IM there is a saying you never trust a fart so I headed that warning just to be safe. Once I realized it was just gas, I just kept running and started apologizing for “offending” as I ran past people. By mile 10 I was hurting and started looking for what I needed at the aid stations … chicken broth, coke … Then I ran into fellow ET athlete, Mike B., and we walked together talking for a few minutes. I bummed whatever drugs he had on him … I mean he had all those pockets on his uniform! He gave me some salt pills with caffeine and I felt immediately better. (At least that’s what he told me they were…) At the halfway point I stopped to see what was in my transition bag and found two pink pills. I couldn’t figure out what they were or why I put them in my bag, but I threw them in my mouth anyway and I was overjoyed to find they were tums!! Twenty minutes later, I found my mojo. I got into a steady rhythm and pace and felt myself getting into the grove. I passed everyone in the last 12 miles, which feels amazing as you hear, “You look strong,” “Nice pace,” “Keep it up!” Rounding the capitol and coming down the chute is like no other place on earth. The excitement, the screaming, the joy. This was only matched by seeing Russ twice on the run and getting a smooch and a quick “Doin’ ok?’ I ran through the chute, got my medal then collapsed into the arms of my coach, Joe LoPresto. I was so overcome with emotion as I realized I had PR’d by over an hour and a half. My first IM I succumbed to the pain on the run. This year, I decided I was not stopping for pain. I was going to run through it to the other side and meet whatever demons lay before me with open arms, like greeting an old friend and welcoming them to the party. That’s the gift of this particular race if you choose to see it as such.
People often ask me why I do Ironman races… That I must somehow be “crazy” to put my body through so much pain and torture. There are a few reasons, but the biggest reason is that I can. I am learning that a grateful heart is a happy heart. The one universal yearning we all have and one we want for our family members is for them to be happy. The secret to happiness is simple. Gratitude. And the formula for gratitude is to simply slow down, look around and see, really see what you are blessed with. And we are truly blessed to be able to do what we do. Life is not passing us by. To train like we do and to connect with people who share our same passions is truly a blessing, and a gift. To have a grateful heart is to have a happy heart and doing this race provides the backdrop and arena to see our soul’s power to persevere and show us what we are capable of as athletes and as people. Every time I finish an Ironman race, I become a more fulfilled and grateful soul and that gratitude multiplies my happiness tenfold. So why do I race Ironman? In short, ‘cause it makes me happy. For some this will always remain an elusive concept, but for a few of us, we embrace it with open arms, welcoming the ability to continually transform ourselves into happier and more grateful people through this sport. And that my friend is worth striving for.
Enjoy all the pictures from our amazing day at Ironman Wisconsin 2014 on the ET Photo Gallery!