“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I have wanted to complete an Ironman since the first time I saw the World Championship televised many years ago. I always felt that this goal was out of my reach and have had some failures along the way that would suggest that my theory is true. Luckily, or unluckily for me, I am a very stubborn woman. Last year, I completed my first marathon which was the final of many checkmarks in my mind towards my goal of completing an Ironman (Marathon ACHIEVED: Roses and Sunshine vs. Death and Destruction). I loosely researched some of the closer races and settled on Ironman Louisville (mostly because of the “easier” swim). I was all set to register when my hip injury from the marathon seemed to reappear, putting my plans to register on hold until I was medically cleared. By the time I was medically cleared, my doubt had started to flare up.
Nevertheless, on June 24, 2018, I pulled out my computer and registered. I did it during a fit of confidence knowing that, once I pushed the button to register, failure was no longer an option. We won’t discuss what happened when the realization of what I had done hit me a couple days later…
Ironman is 90% mental and the other half physical.
Seventeen weeks into training, I am starting to believe that’s the truth. This journey has been full of countless hours in the pool, on the bike, out running, and even more hours lying in bed whining. I constantly post about my trials and tribulations on social media because social media has become the basis for my self-accountability. If I don’t post about workouts, people ask me about them and it keeps me in check and keeps me moving. But, social media also has me connected to people that are invested in my journey and are willing to lift me up when I can’t seem to lift myself up.
There are days that I am 100% sure I will finish the race…
… And there are days that it takes every ounce of my being to keep moving forward and I am 100% sure I will fail.
It is truly a constant back and forth in my brain and an even bigger back and forth in my heart. I have to check in with my “why” no less than 75 times a day. The mental and physical exhaustion I feel on a daily basis completely engulfs me and leaves me in a heap at times.
What is my why?
There is not just one why, there are many. I believe that the presence of multiple “whys” is purposeful in that, if one fails, another can pick up to fill its place. My whys are things that don’t require much brain power to remember so that, in those moments that my brain is scrambled, I won’t have to dig very deep for them.
My first “why” is a deeply personal one that is basic and super simple; I want to prove to myself that I can do this, that I AM AN IRONMAN. I have always been my biggest critic and my biggest doubter. The closer I get to the race, the more people ask how I’m feeling about it. My answer appears to be the same every time, “I know I have put in the work, so I am physically ready, but it will all be about how I handle my mental mess on race day.”
I have had tons of doubts coming into this journey, but as I have weaved my way through it, some of those doubts have fallen away. I truly wasn’t sure if I would be able to manage the training that comes with this journey in conjunction with life, work, and being a mom. Every day, I get up knowing exactly what needs to be done and I make a mental plan to accomplish it. This journey has taught me discipline that I wasn’t sure was something I was capable of, discipline that I know will be priceless on race day when things aren’t going right and all I want to do is give up. In those moments, I think about what brought me here and all that I have overcome on my way to that moment.
Another “why” is that I am doing this for those I have loved and lost that no longer walk this Earth. I have suffered deep losses throughout my life and I have turned those into driving forces to push me to be better. I think about my guardian angels often, but their memories often flood my mind and my heart when I am out there putting myself through intense suffering. I know that, at any given moment, they will be there for me to lean on.
The biggest and most important “why” is that I want to teach my children that ANYTHING is possible, as long as you put in the time and the effort. This journey is one of sacrifice and there is no one that feels it more than my two children. There are times that they want to do things or have wanted to go places and I can’t adjust my training schedule or I am just too tired to do it. They have been more than understanding of what I am trying to accomplish and the work that it will take to cross that finish line. They have been at my finish lines before and there is nothing like the joy that comes across their faces when they see me finish a big event. They are my biggest champions, my favorite spectators, and my reason to keep breathing.
As this journey is coming to a close, I am full of mixed emotions. My body is tired and just wants to sleep in late, to not have any more planned workouts, to ride easy for the sake of riding easy, to not do more intervals of any kind, and to just stop running for a week. But at the same time, this journey is teaching me about myself and what I am capable of. I am terrified of what happens the day after Ironman when there are no more workouts and no carrot hanging out in front of me anymore…
I have a little over three weeks until race day and I plan to cherish every workout, each moment of exhaustion, ache, and pain. All of the “suffering” I have endured with my friends has brought me infinity closer to them. They are a part of this and they are a HUGE part of my “why”… I will think about the mornings that I didn’t want to swim but went to the pool anyways. I will think about how they pushed me to go faster and faster in that water even when I feared I was about to drown. I will think about all the long, slow miles they have run with me even on days they didn’t have to run. I will think about all the miles out on the bike in the hot Florida sun. I will think about the days they dropped me out there but still waited at different points to cheer me and push me to keep going further and further. I will think about how the best thing they did for me out there was drop me even though I hated it. I will think about all the phone calls and texts about endless Ironman tips. I will think about nutrition test days. I will think about the well wishes. I will think about the tough love. I will think about when they believed in me even when I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I will think about how they have helped me shatter my self-doubt. Most of all, I will think about their love because, without it, I would not be 17 weeks into this brutal training. I have not broken yet and you can be for damn sure that race day won’t break me either.
Ironman Louisville, I’m coming for you!
”She was powerful, not because she wasn’t scared but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear.”
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” ~ Sir Edmund Hillary
As Sunday quickly approaches, I am left to ponder what the hell I have managed to get myself into yet again. After all, since the beginning of my cycling journey I haven’t been known for making the soundest decisions…
Here is the formal description of this Sunday’s Six Gap Century Ride:
“The Six Gap Century boasts many of the same roads and mountain climbs as the elite Tour de Georgia. The ultra-challenging route takes you up and down six of the steepest climbs in the North Georgia Mountains. Elevations on the six gaps in this ride range from 1,400 feet to 3,460 feet. The toughest climb, Hogpen Gap, will challenge even the strongest riders, averaging a 7% grade for seven miles, with sections as steep as 15%.”
Let me give a little history lesson about some of this course… In 2014, Three Gap Fifty which consists of the first and last two “gaps” (climbs) of Six Gap Century was my very first organized ride EVER. Yes, a Miami girl decided that her first organized ride ever would be 58 miles with 6,385 vertical feet of climbing. If I may say so myself, it was NOT my smartest move ever…
Wolfpen Gap made me cry. I wanted to quit. I wanted to throw my bike off the mountain and never ride again.
But I did not quit.
I did not throw my bike off the mountain.
I did not even walk once.
But, had one more person told me that the rest stop was ‘right around the next turn’ I may have opted to get off my bike and throw them AND their bike off the mountain.
I finished Three Gap Fifty and it was amazing, glorious, and utterly painful all at the same time. That was the day that I truly fell in love with riding in the mountains.
There is something about the pain and suffering that goes along with riding in the mountains that I hate, love, and crave all at the same time. It is the epitome of entering the “pain cave” and “embracing the suck.” There is no way around it and the only way to go is up, one pedal stroke at a time. There is this funny swerving movement that starts to happen when going suuuuper sloooow up a steep incline… You can’t control it, it just happens. When stuck in that space you only have two options, keep pedaling or get off and walk. The problem with quitting and walking is the realization that you will have to walk the rest of the way up because there is absolutely no way to get back on your bike and get forward momentum again. So you just keep pedaling, one stroke after another, how ever you have to in order to keep moving. When one set of muscles starts to hurt, you simply start pulling up on your strokes until those muscles start hurting too and then you go back to pedaling like normal. You repeat the process over and over and over again until you reach the top.
It appears that I love to put myself through the wringer whenever possible. Despite, analyzing this fact to death, I have yet to figure out exactly why I do these things to myself.
I love a challenge.
I love the feeling of being on the edge of life and death.
I love proving the doubters (including myself) wrong.
I love the suffering.
I love giving everything I have and then digging deeper for a tiny bit more.
I love crossing the finish line.
I love the exhaustion and rush of emotions that comes afterwards.
Six Gap Century is a bucket list ride for me and I have been waiting three years to finally get to do it. (I even tried to convince my friend we should do it in 2014, thank God that he knew better than I did then.) Unfortunately, this has not been a banner year for me so far with all these injuries. I am not going into this ride having trained how I wanted/needed to. But, what I do know is that I am in 100% better shape now than when I did Three Gap Fifty, Assault on the Carolinas, and The Assault on Mt. Mitchell (read about my Mt. Mitchell ride here: The quest towards a century ride, REALIZED.). I also know that I have a bike that is lighter, faster, and better than the one I had back then. And, most importantly, I know the drive and determination that I carry inside me to be successful at the stupid things I challenge myself to.
What’s the saying? “If you’re going to be dumb then you better be tough.”
I am incredibly lucky that I am going to be able to do this ride with one of my favorite people and biggest inspirations, Caroline. She is, by far, my favorite training partner (sorry Zac). Caroline drives me to be better at everything that I do. I know that there will be moments where I will want to quit and may not be able to rely on my own brain/heart to push me forward so I am thankful that I will have her there to look over at and give me the “put on your big girl panties and suck it up” face.
Although I am nervous about how my foot and hip will hold up, I am beyond excited for the challenge that is ahead of me. I have been waiting for this day for so long and I am 100% sure that the climbs and descents will not disappoint. My main goal for Sunday is to soak up every single second of this experience no matter how difficult it gets.
I have written about visualization in some of my past posts and that is exactly what I have been doing the last few days, visualizing this experience and visualizing myself (in one piece) crossing that finish line.
And, let me tell ya… the end of this ride feels pretty damn sweet.
“No athlete is truly tested until they’ve stared an injury in the face and came out on the other side stronger than ever” – Anonymous
I have missed running and I have missed blogging but it seems as though the inability to do one took away my ability to do the other.
Life has been a crazy series of ups and downs since my marathon at the end of January.
I continued to try and run despite having lingering pain from my marathon injury, only to find out in May that I had broken my pelvic bone. I was stunned when I heard the news; it was certainly not what I expected the doctor to say to me… Lucky for me, I had only broken my lower left pelvic bone and not the upper one as well (however, you could see on the x-ray where it had also tried to start breaking) so my break was a “stable” one that required no surgery or extra hardware. I rehabbed it the right way; I went to PT, I did strengthening exercises, I only returned to running how/when I was told that I could.
When I started back running, it was completely miserable… My body had forgotten what it was supposed to be doing and how it was supposed to be doing it. Slowly but surely, I started to run more and enjoy it more. I had a series of great runs but still was only running 30 minutes three times per week. I wanted to run more but I was doing my best to be patient. Luckily, I was able to keep riding my bike because it was non-impact so I could continue training for my big ride, Six Gap Century which is on September 24, 2017 (and which I’ll explain in a whole other post hopefully). Unfortunately, my tri season was going to be a wash because I wasn’t able to run enough for a race.
On August 27, I joined two of my amazing friends to compete as a relay team for the Hammerhead Olympic Triathlon. I completed the bike leg of the tri and felt great with minimal hip pain. My teammates did awesome as well and we came in 4th. I left feel amazing after having FINALLY been able to compete in a race this season.
But, as is so often the case, life had other plans for me… Later that evening, while leaving a friend’s house the unthinkable happened… I didn’t see a hole and as I stepped off a step went right into it and rolled my foot completely under. The series of pops I heard were some of the worst sounds my ears have ever endured. I fell straight to the ground, rolling, and repeatedly saying “no, no, no.” The pain was intense but the mental realization was that much worse… When I was finally able to muster a sentence all I kept saying was, “I cannot be injured again. Please God!” But injured is exactly what I was.
Luckily (or unluckily), I had only badly sprained my ankle. It looked terrible; it was completely swollen and all sorts of strange colors. The pain I felt was unbearable and brought me to tears on numerous occasions. I couldn’t sleep for days because every time I moved my foot, it woke me up. I was a mess. I couldn’t run and now I couldn’t bike either. My brain and heart were a disaster. I threw a spectacular pity party every time I was home alone.
It didn’t take me long to get back on the bike but running was a whole different story… I was supposed to stay in the boot for a month but there was no way it was going to last that long. Last week I took it off for a day and was quickly back in it the next day. Friday night it came off and hasn’t been put back on since. Today, I decided to go run with my run group. And running is exactly what I did. I meant to take it easy but I pushed myself instead and it was GLORIOUS.
I have come to love running in a way that I can’t really explain. It is easy for me to explain my love for cycling but not quite as easy to explain my love for running. There is just something about it that moves something in me and makes me feel alive. I can’t quite pinpoint it; maybe it is that it doesn’t come easy and I have to work for every single thing or maybe I love it because it was taken away from me for so long. Distance does make the heart grow fonder after all, or that’s what they say at least.
At this point, I can only hope and pray that I stay healthy enough to get back to running more because I am pretty sure that if I injure myself again I will pretty much lose my mind. I have definitely learned (over and over and over again) that injuries will teach you precisely what you love the most. But, I have also learned that every single thing that happens to us truly does happen for a reason. All of my injuries have forced me to focus on my swimming which is I am slowly starting to actually like too. I almost feel like I am in the twilight zone after having typed that last sentence…
Stay tuned. Who knows what will happen next and what other lessons I will learn along the way.
“The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.” ~Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon winner
The objective behind me running a standalone marathon was simple: I want to do a full Ironman so I needed to know that I could run a marathon.
I enlisted the help of a friend, Patrick, whom I knew had coached plenty of my amazing friends during their various athletic endeavors. I started running with the Two Rules Running group (www.tworulesrunning.com) on a regular basis and could see, pretty quickly, the improvements that I was making. As I mentioned in an earlier post, marathon training was stressful and physically/emotionally exhausting but, I was managing to follow the two rules of my running group… 1. Look Good. 2. Don’t die. Simple enough, right?
I was lucky enough to remain injury-free throughout my training but my journey was not without adversity. At the end of my 12th week of training, life threw me a curveball that I wasn’t sure I was going to get up from… A relationship that had become an integral part of my marathon journey ended in epic fashion. I found out that I had been cheated on and the news knocked me down physically and emotionally in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. The news and the experience sucked the life out of me and sapped me of my motivation to do much of anything. I was trapped in darkness that I didn’t feel I could escape and the last thing I wanted to do was get out of my bed, let alone go run anywhere.
I wanted to quit, I believed I was done. I told the people closest to me that I was done.
Thankfully, as I have said so many times prior to this and as I am sure I will say plenty more in the future, I have surrounded myself with some of the greatest people in the world and there was no way that they were going to let me get away with quitting. Not now, not ever. They did, however, let me get away with staying in bed for a couple days but that’s it. By Sunday afternoon, Leigh Ann forced me to get out of bed and go outside and send her a selfie while outside and Lavonne later showed up with her bike ready to go for a ride. We DID go ride and it was just what I needed; the ride and the cry on the side of the road in the middle of the ride. No one wanted to stop me from feeling what I felt; they kept encouraging the emotions while also gently pushing me forward.
I am a big believer in feeling your feelings. I believe that the only way to move through pain is to FEEL through the pain. The key, I believe, is to not allow yourself to get stuck in any part of the pain for too long. Obviously, this process is quite often easier said than done but it CAN be done. There were many days when I got stuck in the pain and I hid from the world allowing the circular negativity to go round and round in my head but there were plenty of days where I kept going and I kept running. Running is so very intensely mental for me and there were so many training runs that were filled with doubt and ended in tears. They ended in tears not because of anything that had happened on the run but more so because I expended so much mental energy running that there was no more energy left to keep my sadness at bay.
So I kept running and I kept crying and running and crying and running and crying some more. Sometimes even crying WHILE running.
My friends were never far away, in fact there were an overwhelming number of friends that offered and in turn joined me on my training runs during my last few weeks. No matter how much I wanted to retreat to my bike and call it a day, I kept running. I had a job to do and I was going to finish what I started.
The week after the proverbial shit hit the fan was supposed to be my heaviest training week and that weekend run was supposed to be the longest of my training, 22 miles. Three of my amazing friends (Ron, Kelsey, and Alice) joined me for some of this run; Alice for five miles, Kelsey for fourteen miles, and Ron for eighteen and a half miles. No matter what distance they each ran with me that day, they all left an amazing impact on me. They pushed me and kept me distracted so that I wasn’t stuck in that mental space where doubt lives. We didn’t talk about the break up and no one asked how I was doing, we talked about completely random things and we laughed a lot. Most importantly, although not on purpose, they left me to run the last three and a half miles alone. I needed those miles alone because I needed to push myself through that point where I was exhausted so that I wouldn’t give up. In fact, not only did I not give up but I pushed myself to run faster and I felt a sense of happiness creep in. It was at this very moment that I realized that no one, NO ONE, was going to take this away from me.
This was MY journey and MY sacrifices and there was no one in the world that was worth me giving up on anything, EVER. He didn’t get to take this from me. I didn’t get to give it to him to take.
I felt renewed, not necessarily happy, but I felt a renewed drive to run the marathon and accomplish a goal that I had only dreamed of accomplishing before. I won’t lie and say that everything went back to normal after my realization because that would be complete bullshit. I continued to run, I still cried, and I still doubted my ability to accomplish my goal but I knew that I wasn’t going to give up (a tiny detail that I didn’t realize was going to come in super handy on race day). I kept channeling my inner Wonder Woman and I kept training hard.
The last three weeks of training were a blur but what I can tell you is that they were full of lots of running and fear and doubt and then some more running on top of that. A little over a week before the race I received an email saying that we were able to pull up our bib numbers so I excitedly searched for it, it was 407. It wasn’t until a little while later that I realized the significance of that number, maybe it was weird coincidence or maybe it wasn’t coincidence at all and just some strange continuation of my “fun” relationship with the universe. You see, 407 is the area code for Orlando which was where my recent ex-boyfriend was from and also the city in which we met. I went straight to the universe conspiracy theory belief but one of my wonderful friends, Tammy, gave me this advice instead… “He was a big part of the journey and now this is the last piece. You will wear that number, you will run with everything you have, and you will leave everything about that relationship out on that course that day.” It appeared that having 407 as my bib number was, in fact, kismet.
Kismet (n): destiny; fate
I drove down to Miami two days before the race and must’ve gone through my mental packing list at least 7754 times before getting on the road but still managed to forget something that I had to go back home for. The five hour drive down south just served to make me incessantly think about my race plan and the 16 week journey that I had just gone through. I honestly couldn’t believe that the journey would be “over” in just two days.
The day before the race, I went to the expo to pick up my packet and the “realness” of everything finally started to set in and panic wasn’t far behind. I did all the normal pre-race stuff; I laid out Flat Beca, attached my Valentine’s card from Jimmy (my guardian angel) that goes with me to every big event to the back of my bib number, affixed my bib number to my shirt, set out all the nutrition I was going to bring with me, and charged my watch. I sat down and started reflecting on all the work I had put in during the 16 week journey…
Over 506 miles run during 86+ hours of running and countless new relationships forged.
So much of this journey had included so many amazing people but race day was going to be all about me, I would be toeing that line all by myself. I only had to overcome my own fear and doubt to finish the final 26.2 miles of my marathon journey. It would be my biggest test of endurance thus far and was sure to be one of my sweetest victories to date. I had trouble falling asleep the night before the race which I knew was completely normal but I was able to at least get a few hours of rest.
January 29, 2017, Race Day Report:
I woke up at 2:45am to the sound of howling wind and pouring rain. I pulled out my phone and checked the weather; temperature in the mid 50s, 10+mph wind, and LOTS of rain coming. I was overcome by panic. All I wanted was to get back under the covers and wish the day away but that wasn’t really an option… I had come too far to give up now. I started getting ready and was inundated by thoughts of everything that had happened over the last month, the anger and sadness I was feeling was truly overwhelming. My brain felt like it was trapped in a vice and I was focused on a dark cloud of doubt, fear, and negativity. I had a “come to Jesus” with myself and yanked at the mental reins. I pulled out my phone and looked at all the awesome texts, messages, and Facebook posts that my friends and family had taken the time to send. I started to focus in on all the love and light that I am surrounded by and I knew that, no matter what happened today, I had more than enough to be thankful for. I am a lucky woman and I had everything I needed to push through this day no matter what challenges came up.
I bundled up and headed out at 4:00am to ride the Metrorail surrounded by tons of fellow runners. I focused on my race plan that would hopefully get me my desired 4:15:00 and read all the positive messages over and over. Once I got downtown, I headed straight towards gear check where I handed over my warm pants and phone. The thought of not having a phone and taking 9657 start line pictures was a weird feeling; it had been a long time since I had been that disconnected from the world. I realized right away that it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be which made me feel better about the day ahead; all that cold weather training was paying off. I made my way to corral C and tried to take in as much of the start line experience that I could focus on. 6:00am came quicker than I expected it to and by approximately 6:05am my 26.2 mile journey began.
The first challenge of the day was the MacArthur Causeway Bridge where there were walking people to dodge, a steep incline to forge over, and a cold wind to contend with. Luckily at the top there were awesome guys playing the bagpipes to greet us which kept me smiling. People were flying past me but I kept reminding myself that the majority of people were doing the half marathon and I just needed to make sure to run my race and not theirs.
Somewhere between mile 2 and 3 I heard someone scream something about Team Chocolate Milk and I looked over and saw a woman that I had been standing near in my starting corral who was wearing a Team Chocolate Milk shirt. She was right ahead and to the left of me so I quickly crept over until I was right behind her. I thought about just creepily running behind her and pacing off of her but then I got to thinking about how lonely the race was already feeling without all my awesome running community friends so I decided to say hi. I asked her what her goal time was and she responded with 4 hours and then asked mine. When I told her my goal time she quickly responded that she wouldn’t mind running with me because she wasn’t really dead set on making her 4 hour goal. We introduced ourselves as we continued to talk and get to know each other. Jill was a very unassuming woman and you never would’ve guessed the extent of her badassery simply by meeting her. As we continued to talk, I knew that I was in the company of a BEAST (12 Ironman finishes and multiple Boston marathons)! I had somehow, randomly (or not so random at all) picked the right marathon buddy who would help me accomplish something I had never before done. Meeting Jill was truly my saving grace…
I was feeling pretty good, staying relatively warm, and keeping a pretty steady pace until the rain started at about mile 5. My hands instantly froze and it was nearly impossible to bend my fingers but we kept moving and running. At about mile 6 or so, I stopped to use the port-o-potty which seemed like an impossible feat given my frozen fingers and it felt like I was losing too much time in the endeavor. As soon as we started running again I finally met “the gorilla” I had heard so much discussion about. I hadn’t had any issues with my gracilis muscle through training but I knew from what others described, that was precisely what was hurting me. Jill asked if I need to slow and I said “not at all, I’ll be fine.” I had learned to run through pain in the last 16 weeks and pain wasn’t going to be what stopped me today. Jill told me that she was running to my pace so if I needed to slow down at any point that I should let her know. I told her that she wasn’t allowed to let me get away with wanting to slow down or stop. She agreed to my terms and we kept running and kept talking. I thought back to my 16 mile training run with my friend, Cat, and how we talked for the whole beginning and how I had paid for it at the end of that run and I knew today was going to be the same but I was enjoying the company and the conversation way too much.
Miles 7-14 were pretty uneventful other than stopping for a moment for Jill to grab water and swallow down a gu and for me to fight to get ibuprofen out of a baggie with frozen fingers (I considered swallowing the baggie too when I couldn’t get them out). I believe there was also another potty break in here somewhere during which I was again painfully aware of losing precious minutes. The continuous rain and cold wind was playing tricks on me and making me believe that I HAD to pee when I really didn’t have to at all… Mile 12.5 also saw with it the turn off of all the half marathoners and where the rest of our race really began.
We kept trucking along and continued to talk about race experiences and our running/triathlete friends. At mile 17, we both rejoiced in finally having the remainder of the day measured in single digits. We were still holding a pretty decent pace but I knew that my goal of 4:15:00 was all but lost thanks to the multiple potty breaks and the brutal weather we were being forced to endure. Mile 17 also brought with it one of my favorite encounters along the course… I have yet to decide if the guy was schizophrenic or had dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) but what I can tell you was that his conversations back and forth about himself and yelling at himself about how he was going to finish the race and had what it took to finish the race (in different voices and with LOTS of F bombs, I may add) were simply amazing. Like I said to Jill, they say you have to be crazy to run a marathon and here was clear proof of that!
I was starting to mentally struggle around mile 18 and I kept reminding myself that despite what I was thinking, my body was more than capable of finishing the race and finishing it strong. I kept reminding myself that the doubt was all in my head and I just needed to keep moving my feet. Jill was still talking to me and telling me stories but I was significantly less responsive at this point. I told her that I was probably not going to talk much from that point forward to which she said that she was planning to keep talking, for which I was very thankful. Mile 18.5 brought my high school friend, Lauren, with it and as soon as she screamed my name, something brightened inside me and I got another wind that made me realize that I was definitely going to finish the race. I smiled at her, waved for her picture, shouted that I loved her, took one last look at her friendly face, and kept moving.
Miles 19-22 are mostly a blur. Jill kept talking which kept me distracted off of hitting any kind of wall, my calves were cramping to holy hell, the physical pain was overwhelming, and there was another unnecessary potty break but we kept moving. I believe in here is when I told her that “I loved that she was all roses and sunshine while I was all death and destruction.” We both got a good laugh out of that one and thankfully she kept bringing the sunshine because Miami clearly wasn’t planning to offer any today. I felt like I was starting to fade and I crammed Gu chews in my mouth as well as some Jelly Belly sport beans. I made sure to grab water often from the awesome volunteers but made sure there was no stopping unless it was for the bathroom. There would be no walking today. Jill did try to tell me that if we kicked it into high gear for the last 5k then I still had a chance to make my goal but at that point, I was just hanging on for dear life by a tiny thread that was dangling over a pit of brimstone and fire. I sloughed off the 5k kick idea and told her that maybe we could kick it with 2 miles left. This segment also brought “Joe” with it… Joe was a hand cyclist doing the marathon and while I was really happy for Joe and what he was trying to accomplish, I really wanted to kill Joe. Joe had a regular cyclist with him and his cyclist was warning people that Joe was there except that Joe was so busy zig zagging that we honestly couldn’t tell where Joe was going to be from one second to the next. This was so stressful and I was burning entirely too much energy on worrying about being run over. At one point, Jill yelled to me to jump up onto the grass because Joe was aiming right for us. We both jumped on to the curb in the nick of time to avoid getting run down by Joe. Thankfully there was a hill ahead and we were finally able to shake free from Joe for the last time.
Miles 23-25 were on the beginning portion of the Rickenbacker Causeway towards Key Biscayne with a turnaround under the bridge. There were more inclines on this bridge and while I was super thankful for all of my hill training it seemed like even the slightest road incline might as well have been as steep as a damn mountain. All I wanted was to be done, to not be wet anymore, to be warm, to stop hurting, to FUCKING STOP RUNNING. Jill had other ideas for me at mile 24 when she started speeding up and told me to keep chasing her and not give up. I just wanted it all to stop. I wanted to lie down and die. Instead, I kept running… I kept chasing the proverbial rabbit. Our pace picked up and somewhere between mile 25-26 I heard my other high school friend, Gus, yell out my name. I looked over and saw his face, but couldn’t muster even a smile because I was so focused on keeping up with Jill and on how bad I felt.
I FINALLY saw the 26th mile marker and I knew it was so close to being over. She yelled back that the finish line was right around the next corner but I was entirely too tired to be elated. I was so excited to turn that corner right up until I turned it and saw the last thing on earth I could ever want to see at that point, ANOTHER FUCKING DRAWBRIDGE WITH MORE WET DRAWBRIDGE GRATES. Why?!?!?! Why did the race coordinators hate me? I yelled to Jill that I couldn’t go anymore and she assured me that I could and that it was almost over. I dug deep and pushed with every last ounce I had. As I came through the last leg towards the finish line I heard the best word I have ever heard in my life “MOMMY!” I turned and saw my kids and my parents. I wanted to run to them and collapse on them but I was sooooo close and I couldn’t slow down. I threw my arms up and finished like a champ. I was finally done.
I crossed that line, hugged Jill, and then instantly wanted to collapse on to the ground but she held me up. She held me up just as she had done for so much of the race. We walked through the finisher area, got our medals, got water and Gatorade which I couldn’t drink, got food which I could eat none of, and took pictures. The minute I came across the finish line I felt every pain that I had forced out of my mind and felt 9000x colder. My legs could barely hold me up and my body was shaking uncontrollably but I had finished and I had followed the 2 rules… I looked good (kinda) and I didn’t die (though I really really wanted to).
I am truly humbled by the love and support that I got from my family and friends on marathon day and every other day of my life. I cannot thank my parents, kids, Steve, Lauren, and Gus enough for braving the cold and rain to be out there supporting me and cheering me on. I could not have done this without their love and cheers pushing me forward. Both my father and teenage son took turns being my human canes to get me from point A to point B while I essentially dragged my leg around everywhere we went after the race. Steve took off my wet shoes and socks for me and replaced them with dry shoes (and, c’mon, who wants to be that close to my feet!). When I mentioned this to him, he simply replied “I’ve been there before and I know how you felt after you finished the race. It was the least I could do.” My celebration was their celebration and my pain was their pain.
I was truly overwhelmed when I opened my phone and saw my Facebook and texts INUNDATED with well wishes from SO SO MANY people. I literally laid in a bath of hot water and Epsom salt for an hour after getting home reading it all and crying joyful tears. It is hard to convey the gratitude and happiness I felt towards every single person that has been a part of this journey, no matter how small. So many people reached out after my break up just simply to ask if I was ok, if I needed anything, to just tell me they cared about me… My core training partners, Caroline and Zac, kept pushing me and kept making me laugh even when I really didn’t want to anymore. My running community rallied around me in ways that I have never before witnessed. I am thankful and so humbled by it all.
I went to Miami to run my first marathon in my hometown and that is precisely what I did. Official finish time: 4:23:47 @ 10:04/mile pace. I didn’t do it as fast as I intended to but I overcame plenty of adversity to get to that start line and it was only right that I should overcome plenty more to cross the finish line.
It has taken me a while to gather my thoughts and sit down to write this post; I am a little over a month removed from the marathon. Unfortunately, I am still healing from whatever I did to my leg during the marathon so I have been unable to run since then. It’s funny that with as much as I whined about running during my training, all I want to do now is go out for a run. I know that my desire to run comes mainly from the fact that I just can’t right now and I don’t do well with being injured. Life has taken a lot of twists and turns since marathon day and training has really been my outlet for dealing with life the last few years so it is hard to be without it. Fortunately, I CAN still ride but the short winter days often make riding a hard feat to accomplish during the week.
My marathon journey changed me as a person in so many ways that it is really hard to pinpoint all the lessons that I learned. And, even thinking about it now, I am not sure if it changed me as much as it reinforced things that I already knew about myself or brought other things to the surface of my life that I had forgotten about. I am completely grateful for the experience, all of it. I am grateful for the easy days, the hard days, and everything in between.
I walked up to that start line alone and finished it next to a new friend who will forever be etched in my memories. I had every intention to run the race alone that day and had somewhat mentally prepared myself for the feat that it would be to get through the day by myself with only my thoughts to keep me company. I will be forever grateful that God put Jill in my path and pushed me to say hello. I honestly believe that, given the crazy weather conditions, there is no way that I would’ve done as good as I did without her constant motivation, distraction, and support. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve finished because I don’t quit, but it wouldn’t have been quite as close to my goal as I got.
I walked up to the start line with a lot of emotional baggage and I finished an infinitely lighter person. I took Tammy’s advice and I left everything on the course that day. I didn’t realize this right away, though, this lesson took some time afterwards to realize but I can definitely look back today and see how I changed on January 29, 2017. I am a strong woman with an incredible drive to push through adversity like a bull in a china shop but during the four weeks leading up to race day, I gave my power to someone else and I accepted much less than what I deserved to receive.
Race day taught me that sometimes you have to let go of things to achieve bigger, better things. Sometimes you have to change your focus in order to move in the direction you want to move in. The simplest way to describe this lesson is: If I had given into the pain that I felt at mile 6, I would’ve given up and not crossed that finish line. Instead, I refocused my mind on to other things and I kept moving despite AND in spite of the physical pain to accomplish my goal. The pain did not disappear, I simply allowed myself to move PAST it. To many people, this may seem like a really stupid thing to do but, to me, it means that sometimes we have to let go of the pain in order to get to where we want to go. Our bodies will do what our minds tell them to, it is often our mind that fails us well before our bodies do.
I registered for the 15th Miami Marathon to achieve something that I had only once dreamed of, to know that I could run 26.2 miles, to become a marathoner. I became a marathoner that day but I also became a better person.
“Like the marathon, life can sometimes be difficult, challenging and present obstacles, however if you believe in your dreams and never ever give up, things will turn out for the best.” ~Meb Keflezighi
While I needed to allow myself to feel my emotional pain during those last few weeks leading up to race day, I also needed to decide that I was done feeling the pain. I needed to stop holding on to the pain and the feeling of loss for what I believed could’ve been. I needed to refocus myself on to what is and everything that my life was at that very moment in time. I needed to move out of the bad and into the good. I needed to let go. I needed to ALLOW myself to move PAST it. I needed to greet the pain one more time, say hello, and then say goodbye. And, I did that just as soon as I realized that I had left it all out on those dreary, rainy, cold Miami roads.
A few years ago I learned an important lesson about forgiveness which I had since let fade to the back of my mind. Forgiveness isn’t always about excusing what was done to us; sometimes it is about forgiving ourselves for allowing ourselves to be in whatever situation we have found ourselves in. For the second time in my life, I had almost let someone steal my thunder. I am a firm believer that something cannot be taken from us unless we, ourselves, allow it to be taken. In this situation, he could not steal my thunder unless I was willing to let him have it. I almost gave it away, almost… In the end, I had my come to Jesus with myself on race day morning and several more along my 26.2 mile run. I had to forgive myself for allowing myself to remain stuck in the emotional pain so that I could move out of the pain, so that I could enjoy the moment that I was living in on that glorious day. I could not have both the emotional pain of the loss and the joy of my accomplishment, I had to choose. I chose to bask in the glory of crossing that finish line. I chose me. I chose happiness.
“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” ~Frank A. Clark
I truly believe that I had created a perfect bubble in my life with all my cycling and a “small” sprinkling of running and swimming… Cycling kept me sane enough to both live my life and continue to incorporate the smattering of training in the other two sports.
Approximately 10+ weeks ago I dropped a bomb in my life and upended everything that I knew to be right and good… Marathon training. DISARRAY ENTERS.
I no longer know which way is up and which way is down, all I know is that I have to run to get there.
Running has quite literally TAKEN OVER my life. Everything I do (even my damn vacation) has to be planned around how many miles I have to run on what day.
Monday is a rest day.
Tuesday is a track workout day.
Wednesday is a normal run day.
Thursdays is either a hills training day or a group run day. (They alternate)
Friday is a rest day.
Saturday is hell day (aka LONG slow run day).
Sunday is a normal run day.
REPEAT. EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.
Nowhere in that schedule is there a mention of a cycling day. Not even a horrid swim day for that matter. Hell, there’s not even the mention of a “you’re a mom and you have to take care of kids in here somewhere” day. Not to mention a “you have to adult and work a job to pay for all these asinine races you keep registering for” day.
Why. Do. I. Do. This.
I have destroyed my comfort zone with the decision to train for a marathon. I have erased the one activity that keeps me grounded from my once “normal” schedule. Sure, I could try and ride on my rest days or do it in addition to running on other days (if there were 70 hours in a day) but running makes me tired. Spending hours upon hours on my feet makes me want to fall asleep on my desk at work, in the shower, driving, living life… My feet hurt all the time; they are basically two big blisters littered with lots of smaller blisters (as I finished writing that sentence I paused writing to pop a ginormous blister that had formed UNDER my big toenail). My hips? We won’t even talk about how much those hurt… Let’s just say that ‘my hips don’t lie,’ the pain has become a normal part of everyday living now, and I have perfected the slanted walk. Marathon training is extremely physically taxing on the human body but the toll it takes on the mind is even bigger…
I did this to myself.
I need to ride. I need the open road. I need to feel the headwind push against me. I need to struggle against the climb of the hills. I need to feel the whoosh of the passing cars. I need to experience the complicatingly uncomplicated. I need Princesa. I need to think. I need to clear my mind. I need to find my balance. I need to be.
I did this to myself.
They say that only 1% of the world’s population has ever finished a marathon… I am starting to think that it’s because the other 99% are actually smart/sane/rational/normal/insert other synonyms here.
I did this to myself.
I run and most days I am not sure why I am doing it even though I know the deep, underlying reason for the “why am I doing it” question. I want to be an Ironman. But I would be flat out lying if I said that doubt doesn’t enter my mind all the damn time, every damn run actually.
Doubt truly is one hell of a thing… It can drive even the most determined person to the ground. And doubt has been doing one hell of a number on me lately. The disarray that marathon training has caused in my life and the further my training keeps me away from cycling, the more the uncertainty grows inside my mind. I question everything about my ability to meet the goals I have set for myself. “Just finishing” is NOT enough for me, I want to beat Oprah. Oprah finished a marathon in 4:29:15 at a 10:16/mile pace. (Whoever thought SHE would be the mark that so many people aim for when stepping up to the start line??) Every time that I go out on a long run, I question my life decisions including, but not limited to, my decision to do this stupid marathon in the first place, whether I have what it takes to “just” finish, and whether I will be able to hit the mark that I have set for myself. Every time I fall into this uncertainty line of thinking, I have the same answer for myself… I just don’t know. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me I can, how much they remind me of previous obstacles I have overcome in my athletic endeavors, or how much other logic they try to dump on me because I keep going back to “I just don’t know.”
There is such a mental piece that goes with endurance sports that, as soon as that starts to wax and wane, everything else seems to so easily crumble down too. No matter how much I may know that I CAN do it, the exhaustion coupled with the lack of life balance strips my mental game and opens the door for uncertainty to strut right in. So many hours are spent out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but time to think and think and think some more… Thinking about life, about pain, about relationships, about wants, about needs, about desires, about past failures, about past successes, about the future, about anything and everything in between. Too much thinking. Entirely. Too. Much.
So many times I have wanted to quit, to give up, to stop running, to sit down, to not do this marathon, to change my name, to change my phone number, to disappear from all my bad ass athlete friends, to sit on a couch and eat ice cream for the rest of my life and never workout again…
I did this to myself.
And yet, I KEEP GOING, despite AND IN SPITE of the pain, the exhaustion, the disarray, and the uncertainty.
As much as I want to stop/quit/give up, I don’t know how to. The train has left the station and, for whatever godforsaken reason, it can’t be stopped. I keep going… one damn foot in front of the other, one run after the other, one minute after the next. I need my mental game back and that is so very hard for me to achieve without my best coping skill at my disposal, cycling. As much as I want to be on my bike, I can’t so I roll with the punches life is continuing to throw. I have to learn how to bob and weave in a new fashion…
Marathon training is forcing me to dig deeper than I have ever had to dig before to find my strength, to find my sense of determination. It is forcing me to grow and change. It is forcing me to leave my comfort zone. It is forcing me to put down the previous idea I had of myself and create a new self-image; a new stronger, more relentless me.
Some days the doubt becomes overwhelming and brings me to the brink of breaking. But I haven’t broken yet. I won’t break. I can’t break. I don’t know how to break.
I am ten weeks into my training with six more to go. I keep reminding myself, “I have survived this whole time, I can certainly survive the rest.” I have pushed my body to the brink before and I can do it again. My body will keep going as long as I keep pushing it.
Why do I do this to myself? Because this is me. Because this is who I am. Because I am not a quitter. I will not stop running, swimming, cycling. I will not sit down. I will not disappear on to a couch with a tub of ice cream (well, maybe I will for a little while because ice cream is yum). I will keep pushing. I will keep challenging myself. I will keep aiming for bigger and better goals. I will keep working to be just as big a badass as all the badasses I have surrounded myself with. I will keep moving. I will keep being. I will keep rolling with the punches. I will keep digging deep. I will keep finding that extra reserve of confidence no matter where it is hidden. I will keep changing. I will keep adapting.
I do this to myself because I can.
“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” ~Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
“To keep from decaying, to be a winner, the athlete must accept pain–not only accept it, but look for it, live with it, learn not to fear it.” -Dr. George Sheehan
While I was out riding one day, I began to think about the phenomena that is “pain.”
I spend a lot of time throughout my days thinking about all the aches and pains that are ringing through my various body parts. Pain is such a strange thing because we seemingly chase a pain-free life while simultaneously chasing the “right” pain at the same time.
Pain lets us know we are alive.
In endurance training, I often find myself craving soreness to let me know that I am doing the right thing, that I am pushing myself to the brink where the pain I feel is right on the edge of being “good pain” versus “bad pain.” It is such a delicate balance…
As much as I am dreading marathon training (yes, I said marathon training. SURPRISE! I recently registered for the Miami Marathon on January 29, 2017), I am secretly welcoming the rebirth of the soreness and outright pain that will come with the experience.
Don’t get me wrong, the soreness and pain WILL suck and I WILL whine, but I strangely want it back in my life.
“For something to hurt that bad, and feel so good, it’s just inexplicable.” – Adam Goucher, NCAA Cross Country Division 1 Individual Champ – 1998
Recently I created a “bucket list” of endurance events that I would like to do before I die and it seems like the things I keep adding are getting crazier and crazier. Endurance athletes often use terms like “embrace the suck” or “enter the pain cave” when talking about training for or participating in endurance events. It is clear that in order to do the things on my list, I have to find a place, mentally, where I learn to love how much my body hurts and allow my mind to take control over my physical being to keep pushing even when all I want to do is lay down somewhere and rest. I am not 100% sure why I put myself through these kinds of things, but maybe it is simply to be able to say that I can do them (or maybe I really have lost my mind in my old age).
There is no rest for the weary; I will rest when I am dead.
When I started running at the late age of 32, I never would’ve dreamed of even considering running a marathon yet, here I am coming off of week 2 of my 16 week training plan. I crave the pain of training as the reminder of how much potential I have to achieve all of my biggest and boldest dreams…
Marathon training stands to be the BIGGEST SUCK I will have embraced thus far but I am ready for the challenge. I am ready to push myself to the brink, both mentally and physically, to feel that feeling of coming across that finish line. The feeling of knowing that I am walking up to a start line which most won’t ever dream of approaching. The feeling of crossing that finish line knowing that I am one step closer to my goal of becoming an Ironman…
I willingly welcome back the exhaustion, the aches, the soreness, the burn, the pure all out pain. I welcome back the days when I can barely walk yet I get up and do it anyways. I welcome back the days where it feels like even my fingernails hurt. I welcome it all back because welcoming it all back means that I have a destination that I am moving towards. I have a new goal to aim for with its very own set of challenges and obstacles. I welcome the opportunity to rise above it all in order to achieve something bigger and better than I ever thought possible.
In 5 days I will be attempting the most difficult feat to date of my cycling “career,” to say that I am nervous would be the understatement of the year. Every day my coach texts me the countdown of how many days we have left to go but that countdown is already seared in my mind without the help of anyone else’s reminders. I have trained for this day and I believe that I am ready but the inner voice of doubt is still loud in my head. So many questions roll around in my head all day long… Have I trained enough? Could I have done more to prepare? Am I ready for a century ride when my longest ride thus far has only been 72 miles? Am I ready for the adversity that I will surely face in the grueling 103 mile ride that will make me climb over 10,000 vertical feet?
Deep down in my soul I know the answers to all of these questions. Yes. Yes to all of them. I surely could’ve trained more. I could’ve done more to prepare. But I can also say that, yes, I am ready to complete a century ride. And most importantly, YES, I am ready for the adversity that I will face on this ride. The truth is, life has prepared me for May 18, 2015. May 18, 2015 won’t be about my physical ability, it will be about my mental strength. I am physically willing and able to put my body through whatever it will take to finish the ride and stand atop Mt. Mitchell basking in the glory of the North Carolina valley below me with a once in a lifetime view of the beautiful world that God has created. Life has dealt me some blows along my 35+ years on this earth and I am still standing. I am still standing because there is more that I must do, more I must accomplish. There are things that I have experienced in my life that have brought me to my knees, broken me, and caused me to question my own existence…
These experiences are the reason and the purpose for why I ride as I do. Some people think I am crazy for what I do, others think it’s amazing, others just simply don’t get it. I honestly don’t get it either sometimes, there is just something within me that tells me to keep riding, to keep going. Even when all I want to do is stop and rest, I keep going. I often think about why it is that I do what I do and what I keep coming up with is that this is my way of exercising control over a crazy world in which I truly have little to no control. I have experienced so much unnecessary/unwanted pain at the hands of others or at the hands of life in general and this… THIS is the pain that I hand myself. This is me beating life to the punch, me kicking life in the teeth, me taking life by the reigns… I know that my life can be compared to the lives of others and, chances are, I haven’t suffered as much adversity as some others have. In fact, I see that every day in the eyes of the kids that I work with. Thing is, I can only live my truth. I can only feel what my life has dealt me and the things I have experienced, most in recent years, have hurt like hell. I have learned to smile through the pain of life. I have learned to ride through my emotional pain and to transform it into a sort of physical goodness. I can handle soreness because the physical pain reminds me that I am alive; it reminds me of what I have accomplished thus far in my life.
So… in 5 days, I will ride. I will mount my bike and I will put my entire physical being through grueling agony so that I can feel alive, so that I can hurt a little less emotionally. I ride for the people that I have loved and lost. I ride for those that have hurt me. I ride for those whom I have hurt. I ride for the countless adults/children/families that I have tried to help in my career and the many yet to come. I ride for the opportunities that I have missed out on in life. I ride to make my kids proud of whom their mother is, to show them that there is nothing impossible in the world. I ride to feel whole. I ride to feel at peace. I ride to feel as one with the universe. I ride to feel close to God. I ride for the people I will forever grieve: the child that I miscarried, my grandparents, my greataunt, my aunts, my uncles, my Vanessa. I ride for all the people that grieve these same people and grieve other lost loved ones. I ride for people who have yet to know the depths or true grief so that, when that day comes, they may be able to overcome the pain and sorrow that comes with losing someone you love. I dedicate this ride to Jimmy, may his soul rest in peace to never again know the pain that caused him to leave this earth so early. I ride for the people deeply affected by his loss in hopes that they will once again know peace and joy in their hearts.
No matter what I ride for, doubt will always be an unwelcome visitor in my mind. I continue to remind myself that “Fear is a Liar” and that my stubbornness will always prevail. I try to not leave room for doubt because when you give doubt an inch, it will surely take a mile. This ride will test every ounce of me and I am confident that I will come out a victor. To me, there is no other option. I will not allow fear, doubt, or the clock to beat me out of what is rightfully mine. Failure is not an option because I don’t fail. Over the next 5 days and throughout the entire 103 mile journey, I will visualize myself atop the highest peak east of the Mississippi. No matter how long it takes, no matter what aches along the way, on May 18, 2015 I will stand atop Mt. Mitchell enjoying the beautiful view below. I will stand next to my coach and bask in what will surely be one of my greatest accomplishments thus far. Just wait and see!
Check out the Assault on Mt. Mitchell webpage here: