Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Looking Back through the Looking Glass

 If anyone had asked me early in my training cycle during 2016 what might happen I would have responded with I don’t know and I’m just trying to get through the year healthy and happy.  It was a rough start to 2016 with slow paces, high heart rates and low power #’s, which arguably all had to do with the Mirena IUD (read about it here).  That wasn’t my plan for 2016 but we all know the saying…the best laid plans of mice and men…I committed to the process and enjoying the journey day by day, trying to forget about result and time goals.

One year ago I closed out 2015 in Taiwan with 2 of my biggest supporters – Rory and Kara.  One evening we headed out to a small village and bought a Chinese Wish Lantern.  We spent a little while writing our goals and wishes for 2016 on that Lantern.  In big letters I nervously wrote “2016 Kona”.  Earlier in December I set my 2016 intentions to start each day fearless and confident.  Little did I know how much these two things would play into my season, my life, and my journey through the year.

After a few months of frustration and aggravation through training with the IUD I got that thing out and things changed for the better…almost immediately.  Although all my run training had been pretty much at ZR paces I somehow dropped a nice PR at Cherry Blossom 10 miler despite cold and windy conditions on course.  This helped change my mindset for the better, and propel me into each day fearless and confident, committed to the process.

A hell of a start the triathlon season followed a couple weeks later on the heels of a big training day on the bike.   Breaking the tape with a strong all around race at Rumpus in Bumpass Sprint.  This led into a season of solid training, gains all around and progress – all I was asking for was progress at this point.  Two strong ½ Ironman races later I was feeling ready for IM Mont Tremblant.  I was excited about the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead.

Mont Tremblant – the land of lessons and looking back now I can’t believe how many lessons slapped me in the face during this week in Canada.  I can’t thank my dear friend Angela nearly enough for standing by me, becoming an Ironman for the first time and still making sure we had a fun time.   You can read about the race experience in my race report but looking back I want to highlight the lessons learned. 

As I lay sick on the couch in our condo, less than 24 hours before the cannon would sound I didn’t know if I’d even make it to the starting line.  Everything I’d put my time and energy into up to that point had been for this race and it was slipping away before I even got into my wetsuit.   Laying on the couch and trying to muster the energy to just go rack my bike and drop off gear bags something was said to me – and it mentally broke me down even more. “Don’t blame me, blame yourself.” At a time when all I wanted was to be able to race to my potential, to show what I’d worked so hard for.  A time when my heart was breaking because I knew it was highly likely that if I did make it to the start line it wasn’t going to be the day I had trained for. 

The rest of the crew didn’t dare suggest that I not race, they pretty much knew I was going to toe the line and hope the body would come around.  Toe the line I did – the body coming around not quite (not to mention the bike mechanical 20 miles in).  Every pedal stroke and every step I contemplated quitting.  This wasn’t the race I had trained for, I was better than this, but something kept pushing me to make it just one aid station further.   I’m so thankful for the perseverance to continue that day, to fight just to get to the finish line and for best finish line catcher in the sport to to be there as I came across the line (my mom).  Not to mention, witnessing Angela crush her goal with time to spare.   I struggled through accepting (or not accepting) the fact that my dad wasn’t there cheering for me, heck he’d never been to a triathlon and this whole Ironman thing came about because of his accident – my therapy, my release.  Five years later and emotions and memories are still there and they’re still very real.

(Would I toe the line again in the condition I was prior to IMMT – probably not.  It was borderline stupid, and I feel lucky that I didn’t come out worse for that decision.)

The silver lining of racing an Ironman almost completely with your heart rate in zone recovery is that it doesn’t take too much out of you physically.  Somehow the fever and chills and illness didn’t get worse despite the cold rainy conditions and 11+ hour day of racing.  I talked with Kim, we had a plan and let a couple weeks play out to see how my body would take to that plan.  All systems were go and I got the green light to register for Ironman Maryland – not a race I ever really saw myself at, despite the course favoring my strengths but an opportunity I was ecstatic about.

I spent 5 weeks with my head down and focused, getting every once of strength and power back that I could.  I developed and nurtured some awesome friendships with my teammates and training partners over the course of the year and leaned on some of these pretty heavily going into IM MD.  From dinners, to riding partners, to pouring out my heart and soul to you ladies (and guys), thanks for being there and supporting all of it.  To have you all next to me willing to grind, suffer, persevere and push was and is amazing and I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings for us.  I consciously started the process of surrounding myself with those people that build me up and cutting out the other relationships during this time period (I believe I subconsciously started this earlier in the year). 

I kept Ironman Maryland on the quiet side compared to IM MT.  My mom came out and we headed out to Cambridge with one main goal – to have the best day I was capable of having.   Adam joined us and made sure to keep everyone who was following along virtually up to date on my whereabouts.  Apparently the first person texts were quite a hit.  I knew that for me this day would be a success if I could stay focused on the process and stay present.  One day so full of feeling and emotion that it could last a lifetime.   I went into the day fearless and confident and when my HR monitor went on the fritz and the power meter decided to go haywire I honed in on what Ironman effort felt like and trusted the process – confident and fearless.  I had friends and teammates come out and they were everywhere on the course cheering, giving splits and information on the run and the best part was hearing at mile 23 from another friend that everyone was headed to the finish line to cheer me into Kona.  I said it in my race report and I’ll say it again – there’s nothing like crossing the finish line knowing that you’ve punched your ticket to the big island.

I am so thankful that my mom made the trip out to witness that race and the awards ceremony.   Who knew that Chinese Wish Lantern and those intentions would come full circle by the end of the season.  In the moment at Mont Tremblant I wasn’t thrilled with how things had gone but I am beyond happy with the way they’ve worked out.  I couldn’t have written it better myself.

Little did I know the most difficult part of that week still lie ahead, perhaps the most difficult part of the year.  I’d be lying if I said this came out of nowhere, maybe we both knew it was coming and delayed the inevitable because we were comfortable or because we had hope that things would change.  Just days after Ironman Maryland I learned just how meaningful those bonds with my close friends are to me and how hard it can be to remain fearless and confident when everything seems to fall apart.  I ended a 4.5 year relationship (even though I knew it was the right decision for me it was one the hardest things I’ve done) – a time filled with awesome memories, experiences, countless races and training sessions.  Some people come into our lives and quickly go, others stay for while….

That same night I went to dinner with a dear friend and got a tattoo I’ve wanted for 4 years.  I’ve been on dates, I’ve gone on adventures I’ve always wanted to go on, I’ve moved into my own one bedroom (no more roommates!),  and I’ve enjoyed the crap out of off season.  There’s been pure joy, happiness, heartache and everything in between and I can’t be more thankful or grateful for all of the support from friends, family, coworkers, and training partners - especially those who listen to my stories that usually start with #datingat30 (not quite 30 yet!).

I’ve got two weeks left before the training starts and the head goes down – focused, fearless, confident, present and authentic on this #roadtokona.   Biggest of thanks to some of my rocks through the entire year – Erin and Brian, Big Ron, Heather, Bryan, Shannon, Paige, Rachel and Kendall.  I may have leaned on you more than is fair this year, but I hope if you need it, I can repay the favor. 

The day that you stop looking back, is the day that you start moving on.