I am the kind of person who needs instant gratification and for that reason, haven’t always been the biggest fan of Ironman Race Reports that are split into parts.  The cliffhangers leave me twitchy….I start enjoying the story and just want to know what happens next!   But, I’m also the kind of person that is apparently unable to write in a cogent or concise manner, and I have so much to say about the time before Ironman Arizona.  So, I’m going to go ahead and write a separate pre-race blog.  It’s not the first time I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite and it certainly won’t be the last.

Last year at Kona, Timex put these cool magnets in the race goody bags:

The idea was that you’d rip out the pieces of the magnet to reflect your actual finishing time in the race, and it’d serve as sort of a souvenir of the day.  I, obviously, did it differently.  Instead of punching out the pieces to reflect what I had done, I punched them out to show what I wanted to do, and then I stuck that magnet on the refrigerator where I’d see it multiple times a day.    And THAT, that sub-10, was my loftiest and possibly least realistic goal of the 2014 season.

It obviously didn’t happen at Coeur d’Alene because I didn’t finish the race (nor would I have been anywhere near 10 hours on that day, even if I had).  Realistically, I didn’t think sub-10 was likely at Kona, either.  So at the end of the summer, I put the sub-10 goal aside for 2014 and ignored my little magnet for the rest of my food-consuming days.

Then Mont-Tremblant went down and I spent the next week+ with my head in a cloud of delirious happiness, feeling an intense love of all things triathlon, floating through my workouts, and feeling invincible.  It was while riding that high that I learned that Adam Zucco and Training Bible Coaching had a slot available for the long sold-out Ironman Arizona, and I jumped at the opportunity so quickly I’m not sure I ever had the opportunity to actually think about what I was doing.  The goal, when I signed up, was that sub-10 finish.  The goal was not a Kona slot for 2015– I had decided that I wanted to go in different directions next year and Kona didn’t fit into those plans.

Fast track wheeling and dealing for a IMAZ slot

But then there was the DNF in Kona, and everything changed.  Suddenly Ironman Arizona took on a whole different meaning.   It became about redemption and about finally finishing what I had started.   Sub-10 went out the window.  Goals with respect to place– out the window.  I wanted, no, needed to just finish the damn thing.

So I became, in some ways, frantic– I had only five weeks to solve the mystery of Kona and get ready to try this distance again.  I called in all the troops.  I went to doctors and had lots and lots of tests, not fully committing to Arizona until after I’d gotten the “all clear” that my blood work, kidney function, and heart tests were all OK.  I enlisted the help of Marni Sumbal to help me adjust my pre-race and race-day nutrition and sent email inquiries to all sorts of other people I thought might have insight. My free time was filled with reading studies about fluid-electrolyte balance.   I was a busy bee, trying to find all the answers.

As the race got closer, and the “answers” still weren’t totally clear, I just got scared.  Scared of the distance, scared that maybe I just wasn’t physiologically made for Ironman, scared that we hadn’t had enough time to make the changes that needed to be made, scared for my health, and scared that I’d fail again, for the third time this year.

That fear really weighed on me.  My training block between Kona and Arizona was, without a doubt, the absolute worst I have ever completed.  I was so mentally exhausted and unmotivated.  Usually, I would never skip a workout or cut it even a minute short.  This time around, cutting corners became the norm.  It was so dark, so cold, so windy, and I was so tired of it all.  I found ways to drag myself through the “key” workouts, mostly by enlisting company (thanks to Bob, Kristy, Nick, Andrea, Taylor, and Liz for joining me in workouts at various times and not throwing things at me as I continued to complain about how so, so very tired I was, how much I was running on fumes, and how all I wanted in the whole wide world was just to drink lots and lots of wine), but it was very, very ugly.

At least the post-Kona training allowed for these sorts of scenes

Fortunately, Liz knows me well enough to be able to objectively look at the data and how I was performing in my workouts and to remind me, repeatedly, that although I was clearly emotionally exhausted, my body had recovered nicely from Kona and was doing just fine.  We made adjustments to the training and cut the volume, knowing that the mental stress of too many hours of training would do a number on me at this point, but we never fully shut down the intensity of my workouts because we didn’t have to.  My body was working fine.  My head less so.

One week out from the race, I really had no idea how I was going to do it.  I was so negative, so tired, and so scared.  I worried I hadn’t had enough time to test my new nutrition plan, that my complete inability to eat cleanly after Kona  had vaulted me up into a new weight class that was negatively affecting my chances (I did the, “I’ll start eating well again tomorrow” thing over and over and over and never really did, whoops), and that I wouldn’t have the mental toughness to keep pushing when it got tough.  I’d never been this negative going into a race, at least into a race that went decently.   Things just weren’t looking good.

So why am I writing all this and sharing how much my life sucked from the end of October to mid-November?   For a couple reasons.

First, being able to have a strong race after going through all this possibly taught me the best lesson I have ever learned in triathlon (and frankly, one that I’d learned before but just needed reminding) …. you don’t need to feel it, or have everything go perfectly in the lead-in, to have a great day.  I started to turn around, mentally, during the days before the race, and it’s because some key people got me to realize that going into a race terrified and without a ton of confidence was perfectly OK and that I should accept those feelings instead of fighting them.   Gloria reminded me that fear and doubt was just part of the process, that it was perfectly normal for me.  Liz had similar insights.  “You have a right to be scared, anxious, and anticipating failure….you don’t need to have a positive attitude about this race, you just have to set yourself in motion and do it.”  She told me to be prepared to feel the fear all day, that it’d be like a little black cloud following me the whole way.  “Expect it.  You don’t have to eliminate it.  Just keep up with it.”  

Which is exactly what happened and what I did.  And once I accepted that the fear was OK, I felt a million times better.

Racing with my Little Black Cloud of Fear

Second, I need to specially thank the many people who helped me get through the rough patch after Kona and kept me moving forward.  To my family and so many friends who let me talk it through and just listened, whether over glasses of wine, while riding bikes, while running, over text messages or G-Chat, while sitting in the hot tub after swimming…thank you, thank you, thank you….you know who you are.

And finally, to explain a little my secretiveness before this race.  I had told a few people about my plans to do Ironman Arizona before Kona, but afterwards, I was really very quiet about it, telling only a few close friends that I was racing.  I realize this was sort of silly but it was important to me.  A couple people called me on this afterwards (“uh, how secret did you think it would be when your name was on the starting list?” — OK, fair point) but with the fear of failure looming so strongly, the possibility of having to take to social media, again, to fess up to failure, again, was daunting.   Plus, my goal, truly, was to just finish, if it took 13, 14, 15 hours, whatever.  I wasn’t trying to sandbag or play games…I just really wanted to fly under the radar, eliminate all pressure, and quietly do my thing.  So, to the few people that I kind of lied to when they asked why I was still training– I wasn’t just running for the ability to eat more pizza, I was on a super-secret redemption mission, and sorry for the evasiveness:)

Part Two, coming up!

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