Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Aftermath, Fallout, PTSD, Whatever You Call It

Punishing myself by standing
in a Kilauea steam vent after
Ironman Kona
I'm in a sort of limbo now, having returned from Hawaii and stuck in the insomniac zone from jet lag. It's 12:30 a.m. and all I have is my thoughts to keep me company - or, as the case may be, to drive me insane.

I'd be lying if I said I'm not having trouble dealing mentally with what happened in Ironman Kona last week. People seem to think I need some perspective - that telling me this is going to make it all better. They give me pearls of wisdom: I "should be more grateful that I was able to finish" and "it's not about the finish time, it's about the journey," and they are "proud of me for gutting it out," and that life is about "more than just Ironman." I KNOW all these things. But it doesn't ease the pain. It doesn't make the questions go away. It doesn't make me stop asking myself why I failed in the most important race of my season. And I'm still not sure what exactly went wrong with my nutrition, but I do know that I made mistakes. Call it lack of experience, lack of training, or lack of intelligence. The mistakes WERE made, and I have to figure out what they were and how to avoid making them again. This is what keeps me going until the next race.

You learn lessons, you apply the learning, you see the result. I always said if I stop learning, I'll stop racing.

Ironman Kona will weigh heavy on me for a while. And although I will try to not let it "define me," when it comes right down to it, I have a hard time defining myself. I'm not one of those people who looks at everything and says "life is wonderful." I spend a lot of time crying over things (it could be anything from world news to bad things that happen to friends and family to being yelled at by superiors). I'm not happy with my place in the world. In fact, I want to make a difference in the world, and I worry that I never will. After several career changes, I often wonder if the work I have done or do is of any importance at all - if it has made an impact. I worry it hasn't. I worry that my life has been just a big waste of time and energy and resources. This is who I am.

And so, when I set racing goals, it's because it's the one aspect of my life over which I seem to have complete control. It's the thing that gives me faith that "hard work pays off." When I don't meet my goals or expectations, I feel I have failed and I have no one to blame but myself. And yes, I know I'm my worst critic (aren't we all?) - but without natural talent or genetics, hard work is the only thing I have. Thus, when hard work doesn't pay off, I'm stuck with confusion, self-doubt and lack of self-worth.

I feel like I'm looking at a long road to redemption.

But, contrary to popular belief, I CAN put things in perspective. I know I had a golden triathlon season in 2011. I set age group course records in two Ironman races: St. George and Lake Placid, and I'm the Ironman 70.3 world champion for the women's 45-49 age group. I also have a great new job with awesome co-workers at an institution that I believe in, The Cleveland Museum of Art. I'm lucky to have great sponsors (who I worry I let down), great friends (who I worry I let down), a very loving (and understanding, some say "saintly") husband, and a roof over my head (although Cleveland was never my first choice). So yes, life could be (a lot) worse.

After seeing how driven I am in racing, a friend once asked me "where does it end, Jeanne?"

I'll let you know when I get there.

Until then, for everyone who has experienced a bad race, I found some solace in these great words from IM World Champ Chrissie Wellington:

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