If you race, you know the risks. One little detail, within or outside of your control, can go wrong, and your day is over. It can be your equipment, gear or your own body. All the months of training, both physical and mental, down the toilet in a moment. It’s devastating. And it’s happened to me a few times, but on Sept 30th, it almost broke me.
I signed up for Ironman Chattanooga a year ago. With two 70.3 races (in Chattanooga) under my belt, I thought I was ready for a bigger challenge. Ironman was something I thought I could never do – or want to do. The thought of it terrified me, but I was also excited about the prospect of tackling this monster of a challenge. (But mostly, it made me want to pee my pants).
After 6+ months of training and pushing myself past the point of physical exhaustion and mental blocks, the weekend finally came. It was similar to the feeling of when I first signed up. I was terrified, yes. But I was anxious to put all of my training to test and to finally get my life back! No more blocking off non-working time for my training, especially those important moments with my family. And to not being sore, tired and hungry 99.9% of the time.
My family and I drove from Wisconsin to Tennessee for the weekend, and my amazing Skirt Sister Danyell also came down with her husband. My support system was here, and they came to celebrate with me.
That celebration never happened due to a broken derailleur before the 40-mile mark. I had been struggling with my bike from mile 4 up to that point, but it was over. I was inconsolable. I didn’t even care how it may have looked to others. I knew there were others with pain and loss, but I was dealing with my own failure at that time. My day was over. All of those training days. All the time spent away from my family. And all the costs associated with Ironman and travel & lodging. With the snap of my derailleur, it was over. I was heartbroken and embarrassed.
I dreaded coming back home. Back to reality. But on that ride back, I was already scheming how I could actually pull off my own Ironman distance. It’s fall in Wisconsin and weather-wise, I faced some challenges of swimming, biking and running in the cold and rain.
I went back to work the day after we returned, where many people asked how my weekend went. I felt like the biggest disappointment, no matter what anyone said. I reminded myself repeatedly that my heartbreak was just a race. Sure a costly race but I’m physically fine. I have my family and so many supportive people. There are people fighting cancer, losing loved ones, recovering homes and lives from natural disasters… my heartache was minimal. I told them and myself that I’m moving on and planning my own victory lap, but it still stung.
A few days ago, as I was driving home in-between shifts to fix my car quickly, I just cried and laughed at how things seem to be breaking down around me. I remembered someone telling me to thank God (or the universe) for the hurdles that are thrown at you and see how it gets turned around. So I did. And I reminded myself again that all of my little issues are small. Yes, I hurt and I was grieving over my personal loss, but I am lucky.
As I closed the hood of my car, I received a text from a friend I had just met in Chattanooga. “Do you know who Mike Reilly is?” I replied, “Is this a trick question?…” Billy called me right away and said he felt so bad about what had gone down in Chatt that he reached out to Mike Reilly. (OMG. Are you all freaking out with me??) For those who are not familiar with him, Mike Reilly is the voice of Ironman. He is a celebrity in the Ironman (and triathlon?) world. He calls out the magic words “(your name) – YOU are an IRONMAN!” I hear him call this out when I volunteer at Ironman Wisconsin, I hear it in all the Ironman live race-day videos and it gives me chills every time. Thinking about hearing those words are what got me through my rough training days AND during my own race (though it would’ve been someone else announcing at IM Chatt). As I was talking to my friend, I was in tears. What a blessing. Someone cared so much that he went out of his way to make my race day more special.
The tears still come and go unexpectedly. My bike is still in the shop. My heart breaks every time I hear the words “Ironman” – even if it’s just about the movie 🙂 But I am moving forward. I’m taking that DNF as a bump in the road (maybe closer to a wall that I kept banging my head on for a few days). That DNF has only fueled the fire within.
I’m currently strategizing my “Ironbaby” as my friend put it. The swim portion will have to be done in the pool, the bike portion will be the roads I used for my century rides from training, and the run will be done around the lake, so I can do loops and have access to fuel and gear until it gets late and I’ll run into town. Maybe finish downtown and have a beer or two at the finish! It’ll be a cold and unpleasant day, but it’s something I have to do. Yes, I’m terrified. I’ve been in that taper mode for almost a month now. Will I be able to finish all the distances? Yet, I’m excited to have a chance to put it all together and at least see how far I can go. Most importantly, I want to close this chapter and move onto my next challenge.
As for that conversation regarding Mike Reilly? Stay tuned…