Clearly I’ve been putting off writing this recap. I mean, who wants to relive a crappy moment in their lives? I know, I know, it’s about the experience, and learning from your mistakes. Well, believe it or not, sometimes I don’t want to sit and analyze everything to figure out what went right and what went wrong; sometimes I want to sit on my ass, pout, and feel sorry for myself.
Thankfully, I’ve been in this position before. Yep, I’ve had two DNF’s (now three) in my career: one at mile 10 of the Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon due to an injury, and the other at mile 36 of the Leadville Silver Rush 50 Miler due to altitude-induced asthma. DNF’s are never fun, nor do they get any easier, but I will say that I don’t beat myself up as much anymore. So with that said, here’s a somewhat-brief synopsis of the Ironman that wasn’t.
The week leading up to the race was actually quite hectic: I flew to Minnesota the weekend prior (see exhibit A.) to pack up my folks’ house and then drive 16 hours back to Denver with it. I then went to San Francisco for work on Tuesday, returning Wednesday evening. Fast-forward to Friday/Saturday and I was in and out of Boulder picking up my packet and race bags, dropping off my bike and organizing my items and thoughts for Sunday. I’m not going to lie, I was extremely nervous. However, when I woke up on Sunday morning and made my way to the Boulder Rez, I was surprisingly calm.
I continually told myself that if I survived the swim, I was golden. The swim was my Achilles, the bike was what I had trained the most for, and the run was my sweet spot. I figured if I didn’t drown during the swim, I was prepared for the bike and could power through the run. Clearly, that didn’t happen.
After arriving at the Rez, I was pleasantly surprised to get my wetsuit on by myself, and decided to hop in the water and get a quick warm-up in. If there’s anything I learned from the sprint triathlon I did back in 2010, it’s that jumping in the water cold is a HORRIBLE idea. While the water was a tepid 75 degrees, it still shocks your body and lungs and can easily throw you into a panic. My brother and sister-in-law were watching from the beach and saw a bunch of swimmers being pulled from the water within the first 50 feet, most likely because of anxiety and panic.
I was happy with my 5-minute warm-up and headed to the corral of swimmers lined up to start their race. I seeded myself in the back of the 1:15 to 1:30 group and waited. As the cannons blasted for the start of the pro races, I began to feel my heart beat faster. About five minutes later I found myself slowly walking into the water, staring at the mass of bobbing heads already making their way across the Rez as the sun started to rise. Immediately after sticking my face in the water and beginning my stroke, I sucked in a mouthful of water and could feel my panic rising. I quickly turned onto my back and kicked my legs. Thank God for that wetsuit – it’s like its own floating device. I told myself to relax and take my time. I finally turned over and started to swim again.
Looking back, it’s funny how dichotonic my perspective is: on one hand, my thought process during the swim was completely negative (as in, “this is the worst decision I’ve ever made in my entire life” and “why is this taking forever, for Pete’s sake just get me out of this cesspool of crazy swimmers!”), but when I finished, I was on cloud nine. Had I actually just conquered the swim? Am I still alive? Holy crap, I am! Finishing that swim was one of the most difficult and hardest experiences I’ve ever had.
My official swim time was 1:41 and some change. After a quick stop in the women’s changing tent, I found myself mounting Blue Thunder (my bike) and heading towards the Front Range. The first 10 miles clicked away and I was surprised by how quickly they passed. I was feeling pretty good and trying to find a rhythm to fit into. During long distance runs I have this nice pocket I can sit in that allows me to tick off miles in a comfortable and relaxed fashion. Unfortunately, I never found that pocket on the bike. Regardless, I was still ready to grind through 112 miles.
Around mile 20, I began to feel a tightness in my lower back. Nothing major, just the muscles around my lower lumbar tightening. I got out of the saddle on the descents and tried to stretch it out. By mile 40 I was seriously concerned. The tightness in my lower back was not only inhibiting my form and leg turnover, but it was pinching nerves in my hips and legs, causing some serious pain. I was in a horrible mental state, as pain turned into anger and defeat. I passed mile 50, willing myself not to stop. Typically, I’m a silent sufferer, but at this point I was grunting and making noises I had never heard before.
I finally decided to pause around mile 55. I saw an underpass with two very nice looking volunteers and figured I’d get off and stretch a bit. The volunteers asked if I was okay and I said yes, that my lower back was extremely tight and painful. One of them even asked if she could rub it! As I bent over to stretch, I felt a stabbing pain shoot from the middle of my back down to my mid-calves. I grabbed the cement of the underpass and turned towards the side, only to realize my range of motion was slim to none. I started to tear up. This was it; I knew it before comprehending it. I didn’t even want to say it, and I think the volunteers knew that. I stood there for some time, avoiding the inevitable. Finally, I told the volunteer I was done, and asked to use her phone.
I stood below that underpass for over an hour, waiting for my brother and sister-in-law, as well as Pete, to arrive. I saw the final bikers pass; I saw the volunteers get picked up; I saw the sweep crew pick up the signs and tape on the road. I physically saw my race end, right before my eyes. Talk about demoralizing. But somewhere inside me I felt a tug – a good tug. I wouldn’t realize what it was until later.
Pete picked me up, we packed Blue Thunder in the car, stopped at a gas station for some beef jerky and hit Boulder to pick up my drop bags. Walking up to the Boulder High School and seeing runners on the Creek Trail that I had been riding next to was another demoralizing moment. I just wanted to get out of there. We quickly grabbed my gear and drove home.
I had taken the following day off from work, expecting to be tired and sore. Instead, I was mentally fatigued and downtrodden. I awoke and carefully tested my back. OUCH. There wasn’t tightness – no – that was certainly gone. But left in its place were jelly-like muscles that felt like they had been run over by a semi. I spent the day ice-heating and putzing around the house. It was at this point that I realized what that internally tugging was I had felt after I called the DNF. It was happiness.
What? How could I feel happy after feeling like a failure? Because it was over; because now I could run – just run. I learned A LOT about myself during those seven months of training, but the most prominent thing I learned was this: I LOVE RUNNING. I LOVE TRAIL RUNNING. I JUST WANT TO RUN! Okay sorry, I’ll stop yelling, but this is how I feel! As if I needed anymore reinforcement, this entire experience has simply fortified my love for running. Don’t get me wrong, I do not regret, nor would I ever wish to take back those seven months of Ironman training. However, I know that I’m a runner at heart. I’m getting teary-eyed just writing it!
I’m not a fan of not finishing what I start. I’ll have Ironman demons in my closet for a long while – I don’t plan on attempting another until I have much more time to train. I won’t discuss my over-rationalization of my DNF at Ironman Boulder, but I will say that when I do another, it will be when I have a much more abundant time to train.
When brainstorming a clever title to this post, I thought of “Not-So Ironman Boulder,” “Ironman Boulder: Swim-Bi,” “Limpyman Boulder” (thanks for that one, Pete), and “What a Shitty Day.” I realized that I wasn’t taking into consideration how dang proud of myself I am about that swim. Ummm, HELLO, I swam 2.4 miles and DIDN’T DIE!! I dedicated seven months to one race and didn’t finish, but I still gave it everything I had. I learned a lot about myself that I wouldn’t have had I not TRI’ED.
And so, a bittersweet ending to the triathlon training: no finish or medal, but a giddy girl absurdly excited to get back to the trail she loves so much.
Clearly I’m a little excited to get back to the trails – my next race is the Bear Chase 100K on September 27th. A huge THANK YOU for everyone’s support, and some words of wisdom to those chasing their dreams, like me: