Don’t Worry, Be Happy
by Maggie W.
This past weekend I accomplished my goal of racing in a half Ironman at Racine. However, getting there was not smooth. In fact, my journey to Racine was very much like the bumpy and hilly roads we had to ride on at the race.
I started with personalized coaching through ET in November of 2015 after I completed my first half marathon. I was stoked, and I was ready to start accomplishing new distances – including an Olympic distance triathlon the summer of 2016. However, shortly after I began my tutelage under Coach Joe, I developed a series of nasty sinus infections and problems that led to me undergoing sinus surgery in May 2016. There went my plans for accomplishing a new triathlon distance! I was so bummed by the series of events that year that I got into a really bad headspace. I just was not my normal spunky self. I realized this by the end of July 2016 and asked Coach Joe if I could sign up for two sprint distance races in August for fun and to reignite the fire. After confirming that my expectations and goals were not impracticable, Coach Joe gave me his coach’s blessing, and I had two amazing races that definitely sparked my passion again. I was determined to make the most of the “off”-season and come back in 2017.
During the fall-winter of 2016-2017, I started to notice a sharp pain in my left hip any time I foam rolled. I did not think too much of it other than typical foam-rolling pain. Then, as I was training for my spring half marathon, I noticed the pain becoming more persistent – to the point where sitting and walking hurt. I managed to get my half marathon done – and with my best time too (although I was supposed to take it easy). But, after that, I knew it was time to seek help so that my summer race season did not evaporate again. Coach Joe connected me with Lynn Bigelow and Athletico where I had an evaluation done that led me to an orthopedist. This led me to needing an arthogram in May 2017 of my left hip – a not so pleasant experience – which revealed that I had a small tear in the labrum (the protective lining) of my hip. Not good. There really is no “healing” the tear. If it gets bad enough, the only solution is surgery. I was recommended to get a steroid shot and complete physical therapy. Well, my first race of the year was quickly approaching, the ET Batavia Sprint Triathlon, and the only date my orthopedist could get me in for the shot to calm down the inflammation of my hip was two days before the triathlon! I took the appointment, and accepted that ET Batavia might not happen. Because, in the long run, my goal was to be healthy for Racine in mid-July.
Much to my surprise, I had a great race at ET Batavia. The adrenaline kicked in, and my hip magically stopped hurting for the race! I finished the race strong and smiling and was reminded again to be happy and thankful that my body was still allowing me to do what I love. As I was racing, I stopped worrying about my time or what other people were doing and just focused on my body and having fun. What a great day!
Two weeks later was my first ever Olympic triathlon in Pleasant Prairie. My hip was still sore after my shot, but I was able to get my work-outs in. Then, the week before Pleasant Prairie, I got sick. Really sick. A terrible sinus infection hit and would not go away. After everything I went through last year with my sinuses and sinus surgery, I was quite upset to have one of my worst sinus infections ever right before a race. I hit up after-hours care on the day before the race when I should have been leaving for the race and started a round of antibiotics. Everyone in my family wanted me to stay home and rest. Heck, I wanted to stay home and rest. I knew my body needed it, but I also knew that if I did not at least go up to the race, I would never know if I could have done it. I already paid for the hotel – so I convinced my amazing husband, Brian, to sherpa me up there. I stayed away from everyone and missed out on the awesome pre-race ET team dinner, but I was there. When the alarm went off way too early, I wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep, but something inside of me told me to just try -to go out there and just start the race. I could always stop if I was too sick to continue. It was a cold morning with strong winds. The lake water was warmer than the outside temperature, so I could not wait to get in (I hate the cold –especially when sick). As I was swimming and warming up, my body began to relax, and I was able to stop worrying about how my body was going to hold up. I knew that I would be able to complete the race, which was good enough for me given the circumstances. And so I did. Despite being sicker than a dog, I completed my first Olympic triathlon and with a smile. I did not quit, and I let go of my worry. So far, so good – and my hip only hurt a little. On to Racine!
The rest of my training leading up to Racine was uneventful other than being diagnosed with a mild case of shingles (at age 30), which was caused by my weakened immune system from the sinus infection and the stress of working and training. But, no matter! I had been training and was getting ready for Racine … or so I thought. About a week before Racine, my confidence plummeted and my nerves kicked in. I started second-guessing everything. I had never been that nervous for any race before. The Monday before Racine, I went to Centennial Beach for our weekly swim with our team, and Coach Joe greeted me with a smile as he always does and a “Maaaaaaagggggsssss,” and I just started to cry. As the wonderful mentor he is, Coach Joe gave me a big hug and reassured me that I was more than ready for my first half Ironman. The one phrase from Coach Joe that stuck with me that week was “step in.” He told me to “step in,” otherwise I would always question myself. So I did. I continued to be nervous, but I made up my mind to step in. (I must also add here that everyone on Team ET was so supportive the week before the race! Coach Suzy and Laurie Schubert were super reassuring along with my many teammates and family members. It really takes a village to prepare one for such a race.)
I would like to tell you next that I completed Racine with no issues and all was right in the world, but that would just not fit in with my journey! We arrived in Racine on Saturday to be told that the swim was now wetsuit mandatory and if the water temperature dropped any more, the swim would be cut short or cancelled. I started wishing to the triathlon powers that be to let me swim because I had practiced and trained for this. Unfortunately, no such luck was to be had, and the swim was cancelled the morning of the race due to unsafe and frigid waters (this was ultimately a good thing because Lake Michigan did not look or sound friendly). I was mad for all of 30 seconds and then I let it go because other than that hiccup, my morning was going great. This was the first race morning I had ever woken up and not been a ball of nerves. I was calm, and I was ready to go.
With the swim being cancelled, and Team ET being racked all in the same area in transition, we got to enjoy and maximize our pre-race camaraderie. It was great to be surrounded by so many family, friends, teammates, and coaches who cared and supported us. We were all there with our own goals and to support each other in achieving those goals.
We started the race with a time-trial bike start up a steep hill, which I rocked thanks to all of my ET coaches, and I was on my way. That ride was tough! Bumpy, hilly, and filled with numerous pot-holes. I had never seen so many athletes in a race with flat tires! On top of that, the winds were gusting at 15-20mph. I felt as if I was going to be blown off with some of those gusts! But I just continued to step in and keep going. I kept my legs pedaling knowing that I had the run to look forward to. And, run I did! I was so happy to get off that bike – I had a huge smile! I busted through transition and was on my way before I knew it. I started running, and I went with what my body was telling me to do. I also listened to our great ET nutritionist, Laurie Schubert, and stopped at every aid station to maintain my energy. Around miles 2-3, a group of us (random athletes) were joking around, and a guy running behind me mentioned he liked my pace and was going to run with me. What fun, I thought! A running friend! I learned that his name was Andrew and this was his third time at Racine. He joked that it seemed like I knew everyone on the run course because any time a fellow ET-er passed, we cheered and high-fived. It was so great to be on a course that allowed us that opportunity to see and support our teammates during the race. There is nothing better than that energy coming from your support crew, which is why passing the epic world famous ET cheer crew multiple times on the run was amazing! I also made a new friend in Andrew because we really did run the rest of the race together. We kept each other going through conversation and setting goals. We walked through aid stations to get nutrition and started running again together after each one. I was just so happy to have met a complete stranger while on my run that helped support me and I him to meet our goal. That’s the beauty of our sport – it is an individual sport that embraces community.
Do you know what I did not do during my first half Ironman? Worry. But, I certainly was happy! So, the moral of the story is that over the past two race seasons, this worry-wart has started to learn that life and training and racing is just so much better when you learn to let things go and just be happy to be doing what you love (and with others who love it too)!