When the start line is your personal finish line
Three years ago I was burnt out, in adrenal fatigue and praying for a miracle that some hidden energy reserve would get me to the finish line of the inaugural Ironman Maryland in 2014. What at the time I thought was one of my harder days faced with that tough decision to make now seems like a small bump in the road. Failing is the first step on the path of learning. That DNF taught me more about training and the right approach to Ironman than any book could ever have.
Fast forward to 2017 and the hard day of Ironman Maryland 2014 was trivial as I was faced with an array of personal setbacks which culminated in being hit by a car on a training ride 4 weeks before I was due to race Lake Placid. The most significant setback from the accident was wrist surgery. While the plate and screws in my wrist certainty reaffirmed the “Ironman” title, they weren’t exactly conducive to swim training. I had 5 weeks back in the pool before race day.
At many times this year I thought that that training was over for 2017, yet fighting through each downward spiral I somehow managed to get to the light at the end of the tunnel time and time again. My goal of the year after having done two altered Ironman courses in 2016 was simply to complete a 140.6 distance and race in a manner that was indicative of my training improvement. When race after race was taken away I thought at times that would not happen. So at 6:45 AM on October 7th when I crossed the start line of Ironman Maryland, I felt I already had won and every stroke and step beyond that was a bonus. As I shouted that to my support crew as I waited to enter the water a volunteer said to me “This must be your first Ironman, don’t get too excited you have a long day ahead.” I chuckled and told him it was actually my 8th Ironman but I had experienced a few setbacks that simply made me happy just to be here.
The race itself was somewhat uneventful and robotic. I was in the zone, focused on the job at hand and controlling what I could: pacing, nutrition, hydration and narrowing in on my movement patterns. The swim could have been better and taking a wrong turn to do a 3rd lap of the swim course cost me a bit, but on 5 weeks of swimming, ill take it. My new bike and bike fit made for a comfortable and pleasurable just over 5:30 on the bike. Flat and windy…my default specialty J The run felt like a 10-minute transition run and the huge support of my family and friends made for the most motivating race to date.
As I crossed the finish line and my sister screamed, “You did it, you got second!” I smiled and said that it didn’t even matter, I had done what this year seemed impossible many times and achieved my personal goal. The next day at the awards ceremony that amounted to a dream come true, a spot to the Ironman World Championships in Kona for 2018.
As I look forward to 2018 training and racing with a fresh approach and new level of respect for how hard I can work in a crunch and my resilience to adversity, I am as motivated as one could be. Taking time off after I race that didn’t exactly have the longest build up to it is tough. However, in spirit of learning from failures I am relinquishing any fatigue to start with a clean state building into the next year.
The resilience it took to get to my personal finish line at Maryland this year would not have been possible without the team of people I have around me that stood by me and supported me, believing in me when I didn’t have the headspace to believe in myself. I have been surrounded in the past by people who criticized me and told me I couldn’t do it. The closest people around me are behind me and having them there at the race gave me a deeper sense of emotion to fuel the fire. My coach said to me something very powerful in my race plan “Mile 20 is when take the gloves off, and you fight...you fight for what you started this season for, you fight for why you never gave up, you fight for everyone that stood by you, and you fight for the fact, ....since you wanted this very opportunity....to be at mile 20 of an IM marathon. Get after it.” That mantra resonated with me and I was reminded of the love and support of “my team” that got me through the trials of tribulations of this year.
My coach, Vinny, who was my brain when I couldn’t think. He is knowledgeable and scientific which I love, but he is also philosophical, humorous and absolutely gets me. Those qualities meant that I never had to think about training, simply check my email and execute. Every coach needs a coach! Josh, my chiropractor and friend, who without the routine body maintenance, the race would not be possible. The past 5 years since we met he has dealt with a laundry list of my physical setbacks with a heart of gold and passion to see me succeed. The team at Cycleology whose bike knowledge got me riding a bike in control and comfort. The relationship with Base Performance, an unbelievable product line which when Matt Miller gave me some Hydro on the run course tasted like liquid gold. The Ruggieri family AKA the Waffle House team who have given me a sense of belonging and comfort I have never seen. From trainer skewer set ups, feeding me and miniature training camps they were a huge part of my training and growth this year. I don’t know many 7 and 5 year olds who could spectate a 10+ hour Ironman, eat shot blocks as snacks and reference “recovery shakes.” Watch out triathlon world, the racing Ruggieris are coming. My Mum and sister who have supported me for 27 years and continue to help me follow my dreams. Iron Mum was in full swing helping me prep for the race and keeping me calm and relaxed the days prior to the race. And finally, my good friend Bri, who also happened to be my wrist physical therapist. I am slightly biased but her outstanding physical therapy skills are only inferior to her friendship and the amazing advice she gives with an ability to sympathize and relate that is unparelled.
Looking back on 2017 through the post race lens, despite the circumstances I was still able to race 5 triathlons placing 2nd age group, 1st overall, 2nd overall, 4th overall and 2nd age group. I can only be proud that when I was given moments to prove my progress I never gave less than the best I had on that day. I look forward to next year and will be forever grateful that I get to wake up each day at the start line.