|My Kona finish the first time.|
As always, I try to view every race (good or bad) as a learning opportunity. As soon as I stop learning things - about myself or racing - I suspect I will stop doing it. That's what happened in my marathoning career... I went as far as I felt my body was capable, and I had several very well-executed races. Once I mastered HOW to race marathons, the allure was gone. I often considered making another attempt at Olympic Trials qualifier, but my heart was already given over to figuring out triathlon.
So here I am, honoring my long-ago promise to return to Kona. It's nine years later and I am nine years more experienced (in life and in athletics). Oh, there are similar trends. I'm still plagued with self-doubt. I still have anxiety issues. The bike is still my worst leg. But I've come a long way, even just this year alone. I have learned to relax enough to sleep the night before a race. I've learned how to train to get faster on the bike. I've learned a hell of a lot about nutrition and hydration. And I've learned how to enjoy racing. I've even learned, somewhat, to have faith in my running when I get behind on the bike.
But I still make mistakes.
My thoughts on the last nine years have led me to a review past race experiences:
The Chicago Marathon in 1998: going for a sub-2:50, I didn't sleep for two days leading up to race morning. At mile 11, GI issues resulted in about five bathroom breaks from there to the finish line. It was a disaster.
Olympic Trials Marathon in 2000: I over-trained myself into a fifth tibial stress fracture. Race day was a disaster and my embarrassment was a 3:08 almost-last-place finish. Even the finish line was being deconstructed when I finally made it there.
Ironman Hawaii 2002: the enormity of a first trip to Kona got the best of me and my sleep issues and anxiety and stupid nutrition decisions almost cost me a finish. The only thing I pulled from this disaster was how strong of a will I had despite enduring my own personal concept of hell during the almost 5-hour marathon.
Ironman Florida 2003: in an attempt to get back to Kona after being hit by a truck on my bike six months earlier, I got way ahead of myself and ended up bailing at mile 13 of the run due to dehydration and faulty nutrition. This disaster started a downward spiral that led to taking the next four years off from competition.
Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2009: ran myself up several places only to be struck with hypothermia because of stupid mid-race clothing decisions. I was lucky to finish but with this disaster came a 2.5 hour stay in medical after having my core body temperature drop to 90.3 deg F.
Ironman Lake Placid 2010: was on track to chase down the age group leader but made seriously bad nutrition choices and ended up collapsing from dehydration. Huge disaster - I did get to the finish line, but it was in an ambulance.
But I've had success in some big races too. In reviewing those, I've found one common thread. Every successful race (defined as a race in which I met or exceeded my goals) was accompanied by a certain damn-the-critics I'm-just-going-to-have-fun-and-be-smart attitude. My 2:48 in Grandma's Marathon 1999, my overall women's win at the Quad Cities Marathon in 2000, my first Kona qualifier at Ironman Utah 2002, my 10:32 in Ironman Lake Placid 2011, and my age-group win last month in Ironman 70.3 Vegas. All of those races were executed with a level of relaxation and some degree of self confidence that I didn't possess in the failures.
The two biggest influences on my Ironman racing have been silencing the self-critic and having faith that I CAN pull myself out of those dark places that all endurance athletes experience. In Ironman, especially Kona, I expect to be challenged. And I already had my trial by fire there. To conquer Kona is to conquer your demons. I know what mine are and I know what I have to do. And I ask one thing from myself on October 8: to know I did the best I could with the information I have.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the importance of my race support. I couldn't toe the line (or finger it as the case may be) in Kona next week without the J-Team. My husband Jim and friend Julie have, year-in and year-out, gotten me through these race experiences with the expertise of champions. They know the drill better than I do. They always remind me of who I am and what I'm capable of before and during my races. I couldn't ask more of them than they already give. I also want to add my friend Ron (of Punk Rock Racing) as an honorary member of the J-Team (even though his name doesn't start with J) - his support over the last two years has meant more to me than he may realize. And the support of friends on the Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport Team have also been invaluable this year in keeping me motivated during a very long season.
And so, to Julie and Jim, I restate the promise I made back in 2002: This time WILL be different.