This post begins with a public apology to my family and friends for being completely MIA for the month of October. The month kicked off with my birthday and it didn’t slow down. At all. I think I talked to my mom for a total of 5 minutes in 31 days. I’m pretty sure I traded a few voicemails with Britta before she finally gave up on me. I got a text from her the other day that said, “I’m hoping to talk to you in 2015…” I know there were more than a few folks whose texts of “Hey, are you still alive?” that probably went unanswered. For all of this, I am truly sorry. Please know that none of you were forgotten. October was just a month of eating, sleeping and breathing all things Ironman.
And now that I’m into the taper, I am mostly just about eating, sleeping and breathing in general. Seriously, if I’m awake, I’m stuffing food in my face. Even as I sit here at my desk I am surrounded by coffee, water, banana, granola bars, etc.
Wow, I’m not even really sure where to begin with everything that has happened in the past month. After celebrating the 39th anniversary of my birth, I completed a 70.3 in some pretty rough conditions. It was a character building day, that’s for sure. The water temperature was rumored to be 54 degrees. At least the temperature distracted all of us from thinking about the “yuck factor” of the water we were swimming in. And the fact that it was so murky we couldn’t see our own hands in the pitch blackness of the water. Some of my friends are still fighting infections of various kinds. And several of us had vertigo from the cold water. So of course it made sense to get on a bike. In the transition I couldn’t even feel my fingers to put on socks, or gloves, or fasten my bike helmet. But I persevered. It was a windy ride out through the flats of Newtown. Highlights included seeing various friends along the course, the lack of promised Port-o-Pottys at Mile 29 and riding past Lindsey Farrell’s grandparent’s house where we had taken wedding photos a year prior. Oh and my friend Pam’s fiancé flying past me around Mile 50. “Hi Lindsey, it’s Zach” he yelled as he zoomed past. Why in the world is he passing me now, I wondered. Turns out he was determined to beat me for the world’s longest transition. I had spent almost 12 minutes in T1, but Zach had spent 45 minutes sitting in an ambulance to warm up after completing the swim not wearing a wetsuit. Even I wore a wetsuit this time, so that’s saying something.
When I finally made it over the bridge into Alton where T2 was located, I was never so happy to see a row of port-o-pottys in all my life! After swapping out my bike stuff for run stuff, I made a pit stop. My bladder was grateful. The run was somewhat uninteresting as the course goes, but it was warmer, and I was glad to have company from Justin and Jen. Seeing so many familiar faces along the way made it a party. Crossing the finish line with Jen was probably the best part of the day. We had started on the beach together that morning and we saw it through to the end.
Another highlight of the day: As we made our way through that brutally cold and murky swim, with carp trying to jump onto the kayaks (yes, seriously, I actually saw this happen) I overheard a couple swimming next to me. He was talking to her in a very calming voice, saying things like, “It’s a beautiful day for a triathlon”, “Just side stroke it out, it’s alright” and “We’re just going for a nice easy swim, the water is beautiful.” I assure you, there was nothing beautiful about that water, but he almost made me believe him. As we swam I said, “I like you guys. I’m going to stay here with you.” He said, “Yeah, we’re just having a swimming party.” Me: “I’m not sure what I’m doing right now looks much like swimming. It kind of resembles the doggy paddle.” Him: “Whatever. At the end of the day, you’re still a triathlete.”
A few days later, when I was sort of recovered, I joined Barb in Columbia, IL for my first ever century ride. We got a beautiful fall day and rode the flats of Mississippi River valley on the Illinois side. We agreed to both take it easy and just get through the miles since we were coming off 70.3 and she was headed into Chicago Marathon weekend. There was a stretch in the middle of the ride that I struggled with but I was surprised at how good I felt upon completion of 100 miles on the bike. It was another boost of confidence pointing toward Arizona.
I’ve done several long runs, mileage in the teens. 16 miles with Steve, Steve and Dr. Brian at Creve Coeur Lake. A 3 hour run in Rockwood and Al Foster where my Garmin died at the end so exact mileage is unknown. We also had Rock n Roll Marathon weekend when I worked the expo, hit a Pedal the Cause fundraiser on Saturday and then ran the half marathon with Farrell before heading over the work later in the day on Sunday. I spent a lot of that weekend looking around and thinking…”I really have the coolest job ever.”
A couple weeks ago, I did another century ride. Steve actually took the day off of work to go ride with me. I let him plan the course. I said “not flat”. He didn’t disappoint. It was another character building day, since I was mentally screaming, “I don’t want to be on this bike anymore!” And that was at about Mile 12. It was a day of gutting it out, getting through the miles, one hill at time. 7ish hours later, Steve knew I was spent when I couldn’t even find words to respond to him. As we got back to his house, I propped my bike against the car and promptly laid down in the grass. It wasn’t too long until the smile returned to my face. I’d made it.
A few days later, I was heading out to Lake St. Louis on a Sunday morning to meet Steve again, and our friend Luis. But this time there were no bikes involved. This one was about swimming. It was maybe 50 degrees that morning. All the way there, I cried. I did not want to put on my wetsuit or get into that cold water or swim the entire 2.4 miles that I needed to practice for my big day in Arizona. I was the first one to arrive at the clubhouse. I sat in the car. I didn’t want to get out. I stared at the bracelet on my wrist that reads Courage. I thought of Teri. I wondered how many times Teri had driven to chemo thinking…I don’t want to do this. And so, I sucked it up, got out of the car and put on my wetsuit. The boys arrived and we walked down to the beach. I procrastinated. A lot. Finally our swim was underway. Luis would swim ahead to “mark the course” or rather be the buoy for me to swim to. And Steve would stay close to me for company.
While we swam, my theme song through my training for Arizona played on repeat in my head. Just as it had on my century with Barb. And my century with Steve. And on that one run when I had forgotten my ipod. And all those times in the pool, staring at the blue line. All that time in the water, or on the road gives you a lot of time to think. It can be a little like looking into a mirror.
The song goes like this…“Spent today in a conversation, in the mirror face to face with, somebody less than perfect. I wouldn’t choose me first if I was looking for a champion. In fact I’d understand if you picked everyone before me. But that’s just not my story. True to who you are you saw my heart and made…something out of nothing.”
Steve and Luis and I finished a loop around the lake. We were half way there. 1.2 miles. Luis asked if we were going around again. Ok, let’s do this. And so we set off again in the same fashion. Luis leading the way and cheering me on as I swam around him. After just under 2 hours in the water (yes, I’m that slow) we were headed back for the beach. Luis’ kids were cheering my name from the shore. Steve and Luis were right there as I finally put my feet on the sand and stood up. I hit stop on my Garmin and moved my goggles from my eyes. I’m sure Steve could see the tears brimming when he high-fived me. And I’m sure they both heard my voice crack slightly when I said, “I did it”.
That was the last piece falling into place. Proof that I could do the 2.4 mile swim of an Ironman in less than the 2 hours and 20 minute time limit allowed. That was one of the best feelings ever. It was relief. It was confidence. It was the personification of “courage”.
Luis’ wife Melissa had brought all kinds of food out for us. I quickly stuffed my face and then I bustled off to work so I could wash the lake off of me before any customers showed up.
The past month has held some pretty amazing moments that I will cherish forever. Not just as my memories of training for Ironman Arizona, but also just going forward through life in general. People giving up their free time for me, people taking off work to spend the day training with me, people cheering me on and celebrating my victories. The memory of standing on the shore before Border Wars hugging Kris, Jen, and Adrianne, in an attempt to stay warm before the dreaded plunge. As we stood there, Karen walked over to me and said, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. A few minutes later as I made my way into the water with all the other wetsuits and pink swim caps, trying to avoid an anxiety attack, those words were ringing in my ears. And they stayed with me through that entire race. Unfortunately, that was not Karen’s day to race. Before I got to the first buoy, I looked over my shoulder to see a look of pure panic on Karen’s face and I pointed to the kayak. But I held on to her words. And as I crossed the finish line later that day, Karen was standing right there. I hugged her and assured her that she didn’t not finish her race, she just had a different purpose for being there that day. It was to remind me how to get through the hard days.
In less than a week, I will load up Isaac the Santa Fe and head west to Arizona. The hard part is done. Now it’s time to trust my training and go enjoy the day. I will carry all of the last month with me into that. And no matter what the day looks like, at the end of it, I will still be a triathlete. I won’t be first and I won’t be fast. But that’s not what it’s about for me.
There is another line in my theme song that goes, “I’m not living for applause, I’m already so adored.” Training for this race has been hard. The time, the effort, the resources. I’m not doing it to prove anything to anyone but myself. But the best part is what others have shown me along the way through encouraging me, supporting me, training with me.
I think back to where I was when this journey started almost 3 years ago. And where I am now. I have been remade. I am so adored. Something out of nothing.