14 days post Ironman Wisconsin. Or Ironman Moo (no I did not moo at the first buoy. I was too busy smiling at the camera. But seriously, where does that even come from? Moo at the cows on the course instead!). The race feels like an eternity ago and the experience feels almost like it didn’t happen. Post-race blues are true and real, especially since I have taken the past two weeks to recover and stopped all things triathlon. For me, I find it necessary to step away completely for a short time but it’s also challenging to have this separation and suddenly stop something that has consumed me for months.
However, to put some thoughts on paper about the race before they fully disappear into the ether and then I will really start questioning whether the race actually happened! I am so glad I have finally raced my first Ironman (yes, first – I believe there will be more). I have heard stories about what racing an Ironman entails from so many friends. I felt I was well-equipped to race this event with proper preparation from my coaches, solid nutrition planning with my sports dietician, endless stories from teammates’ experiences, and much more, but it is impossible to really know what you’re going to experience until you go through it.
I entered Monday of race week very calm and happy. This was a new feeling for me. I was ready to race and get on that start line, but I had an overwhelming sense of peace because I had made it injury-free through the training. My coaches and friends instilled these feelings in me and that is how that week and the majority of the race went. I honestly have never enjoyed a race so much. Yes, I had MANY difficult spots in the race but the feelings of enjoyment overpowered those of pain and suffering.
The first and last portions of each segment were the hardest mentally, but once I settled into a rhythm into what I was doing, reset my mentality, and turned the brain off from the anxiety and doubt that creeped in, I was able to do what I trained to do. Particularly, the first 8 miles of the run were the hardest part of the race. My back would not loosen up enough to get into my natural stride and then I was unable to fathom running a marathon. I have never run more than 18 miles and I started thinking about this. Pro tip: DO NOT think about how long you have to run at the start of an ironman marathon! Then from mile 8 thru 23 I honestly felt great – I couldn’t believe it. The last 3 miles or so were also very hard, but it was easier to just put one foot in front of the other at that point and force myself to the finish line, using the crowds and cheers to get me there. Overwhelmed by so many emotions at the finish, I was happy that there were a dozen finish-line-catchers there to collapse into! Literally just awesome, thank you!
This race meant so much to me and it’s great to take a step back and soak it all in. At about this time 11 years ago, I was taking a 2 year break from running after suffering from a long stint of injuries and turmoil. I had 8 stress fractures (5 femoral fractures) in 5 years. More than once I was told I shouldn’t be running. I was accepted, medically disqualified, accepted again and then attended West Point for a year but then left because the rigors of the military training did not suit my structurally weakened body. I tried out Air Force ROTC at Purdue then was disqualified because of Celiac Disease. And I was always on the sidelines watching my cross-country and track teammates compete throughout college because of these injuries. I had a challenging 5 years that took me 10 years to recover from (yes, that long). So to be on the start line racing my first ironman gave me so much joy. No, I did not think about these events during the race, but having the chance to step back over the last couple of weeks has allowed the emotions to come forth again. I am thankful to have a body that can go this distance. It is a far cry from my first femoral neck stress fracture in 2003 that was more than 80% of the way across, requiring immediate surgery and pins. Had I not gone into surgery within 48 hours of this finding, I might have been getting my hip replaced instead.. as an 18 year old.
We all have a background and a story that drives us to every finish line. Don’t ever forget the hardships you’ve gone through to get yourself there, and always be thankful for what we have. I am thankful to be surrounded by amazing people who have brought me to this point in life – to the finish line of my first ironman. And it means much more than just finishing a race.