Tuesday, October 11, 2011

IM Hawaii 2011 - Perspective Is Everything

Part of the beauty and mystery of sport is that we can prepare perfectly, we can do everything right, but come race day, absolutely nothing is guaranteed and even less is going to be given to you. I am the last person to ever expect it to ‘be so easy’, but this year's race was emotionally a bit of a doozy. While I had not put all of my eggs into the Kona basket (so to speak), this was a huge focus for me the entire season. If we are talking eggs, I’d say I put 80% of them into this basket. I passed up Vegas 70.3 so that my preparation for this would be optimal. I knew I had raced early in the season, so I opted to train a bit more and pull back the racing throttle going into Kona to be ready and focused to toe the line, knowing I had put in the big training I needed. Unfortunately, the end result was not what I had hoped for, nor what I had expected. But, in hindsight, I would not have changed a thing and I am immensely proud of the fact that I gave it every ounce I had until I crossed the finish line.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of the day, I want to give a huge thank you to those who have supported me this year...Zoot Sports, Powerbar, Quintana Roo, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, Road ID, ISM Saddles, Katalyst Multisport, Jack & Adams, Durata Training, Oakley, Xcis, Hill Country Running, Advanced Rehab, Go with the Flo, and 3 Cosas; and to my family, friends and so many supporters who have followed my journey. Your support means more to me than you’ll ever realize.

I went into this event believing that a Top 5 finish was entirely possible. On paper, most would say I was crazy. Probably 8 or 10 women on paper would have beat me from the start. I guess you could say, I am not one to believe predictions and what ‘should happen’. I like to moreso believe that anything really is possible, given adequate, focused and logical preparations and a never-say-die mindset. A genuine calm confidence in oneself can elicit great things. I knew that I had to swim much faster than last year’s dismal 57+ minute swim. I started off right next to Rachel Joyce, who seems to seriously fly under the radar yet is a stellar athlete. I learned the day before that she had the fastest women’s swim split last year (doing my homework!). She had put 5 minutes into me in 2010; while I did lose her feet and I was unable to bridge the gap, I managed a 55-minute swim, about 2 minutes faster than last year. Unfortunately I was pulling along a huge group in a challenging ocean swim. I had a feeling that was what was going on behind me, but what can you do? I sure as hell wasn’t slowing down! I felt good about what ended up being the 5th fastest swim, so a decent start to the day.

Onto the bike, I had a small mishap in T1 as my Giro Aeon helmet strap came loose. (I opted for a non-aero helmet given the conditions…I definitely could have used the extra few minutes, however I knew that cooling would be important on this fairly steamy day.) Luckily I was able to fix it quickly and only lose a minute or so, but it goes to show you how you really need to maintain composure in those situations. I was soon off and onto my awesome ‘vehicle’, my QR pink camo CD0.1 with my Reynolds 92/46 RZR combo, and ISM Breakaway saddle. Despite a kickass bike set-up and having felt great going into this race, here is where the days struggles began.

Long story short, I just never felt strong on the bike. My legs felt like they were working very hard from the start, yet I figured that I would settle in and find that rhythm that I have had so many times this year, both in races and in training. But, it just never came. I felt very in control despite some ripping winds out near Hawi, even on the turnaround (stable and comfortable in the crosswinds), and I had hoped that once I turned back on the Queen K I would get a tailwind. No go there; it felt like an unrelenting headwind, non-stop, the entire last 30 miles. I kept eating, drinking, hoping I may find one more gear; but it just never came.

As I neared the end of the bike, I tried to let off the gas (or let off the little bit of gas I was giving it) and relax the legs a bit for the run to come. This is Ironman, and a lot can happen those final 3 hours. I knew a few women ahead of me would likely stay there, but I also knew that I had the capability to run some down. I exited and headed out for my final 26 miles of the race; hoping that I could actually get back up where the action was.

I cruised through the first few miles and I saw some splits in the 6:25-6:30 range. I knew that this was a bit quick, but my thinking was this…you have a hell of a lot of ground to make up, so screw pacing. You cannot afford to dial this back. Run strong, push your pace and try to run sub-3 hours; otherwise you have no chance of getting anywhere near the front end of this race or even the Top 10. So I did just that. I was able to pick people off one by one, starting about 10 miles into the race, once we neared Palani Hill. Some dude was running with me for a few miles, so close that he was elbowing me despite having an entire shoulder of the road. Really?! We are not Dave Scott & Mark Allen, sir, nor are we racing one another. Back off. Simmer. I kindly told him to give me some space and he told me he ‘wanted some draft’. Really?! Who SAYS that? Anyhoo, I tried to track some of my mile splits, but I finally just told myself to run by feel and run as strong as you know you can. Sometimes when we know that the race is not going as we hope and we know we’re not running for a win (or for the end result we had envisioned), this is the best approach; otherwise, it is easy to get too ‘heady’ about it all; maybe wanting to throw in the towel if we see the pace slip. I would check a split here and there, and it was not until about mile 20 or 21 where I really started to feel some strong fatigue; much like I had felt out there on the bike. I didn’t worry or panic, but I was told that I was 2 minutes to the next girl with about 2 miles to go. I knew it would be hard to close that gap, but it forced me to drop my pace as best as I could and really drop whatever hammer was left in me. I ended up finishing in 9:29, just 40 seconds out of 12th place, closing with a 3:03 marathon.

The finish kind of took me by surprise. I actually thought I was closer to a Top 10 finish, if not within the Top 10. As I ran down Ali'i Drive, I just gave it all I had. I knew I was not running for a win; far from it. I knew that the Top 5 goal I had was well out of reach. But I was here, I was still competing and I had too much pride to ease up just because I was out of contention for a top finish. I wanted to post a good fast run split and know that I had left it all out there; this was the World Championships after all. I owed it to myself, to my family, to my friends, to my sponsors, and to all of the amazing spectators to respect this race enough to know that I had put every ounce of myself into it. I crossed, saw Derick and lost it as we hugged. Not so much because I was disappointed in the end result, but moreso because of the physical and emotional toll it took on my body; and a feeling of mixed emotions, disappointed it was not what I had hoped for, but also a huge sense of pride that I had not given up.

I have been fortunate to now have experienced Kona twice. Last year, I was here to take it all in; looking back, I feel like a 15th place was pretty amazing given my lack of Ironman and specifically Kona experience. The run was fairly overcast and I would describe the conditions as mild, definitely far from brutal. This year, it seemed many of the professionals who crossed the line collapsed immediately or spent a good few hours in medical. Of course we all leave it all out there, but in some way, it seemed different this year. I think I got a slightly skewed perception of this race last year. Before Saturday, I would say all of my first three Ironman races were similar; challenging, but you are putting your body through a test of 140 miles of endurance; challenge is a given. Every race is hard in its own way, course and conditions aside. After this race, I can honestly say that I now realize what the lure of this event is. The air felt steamier, the winds felt stronger, and there was this sense all around me that no matter who looked good out there, we all were similarly hurting. As I said before, nothing is given to you on race day, and it is not supposed to be easy.

I did something that I have never done before as well; I went down to the finish to watch the final 2 hours of ‘midnight finishers’. I saw many of the 70-80 year old racers cross the line, looking like they may fall over, but grinning ear to ear; I witnessed one woman cross the line only 5 seconds beyond the 17-hour cutoff. I saw one man cross the finish line and go straight to the ocean, pulling a bag out of his pocket, and tossing his mothers ashes into the water, as she had died of breast cancer recently and he promised her he would finish. The stories and the journeys of those who came here were incredible. The place was alive and jumping, far more than it was 8 hours earlier. I realized that the end result mattered to me. It mattered a lot, it is what I was focused on, what I wanted so badly and what I had prepared for. I believed it, I knew it was possible, but in the unpredictability of sport, it was not my day to have that elusive ‘perfect race’. And that is OK. It can take some years to figure this race out. I took a step in the right direction. I am better than I was last year. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was all I had in me on the day, but it is not all I have in me. I can take solace in that, but also in the fact that I am lucky to be a part of such an amazing sport. Now I understand and respect so much more the mystery and the tradition that is Ironman Hawaii.

Having had a few days to reflect on the race, I found myself feeling rather disappointed today. As with the finish emotions, it took me by surprise. I am not one to mope in misery or feel sorry for myself. But when asking ‘why’ I am so disappointed, I realized it is simply because I expected so much. When you expect huge things of yourself, you have to accept that disappointment and letdown are a possibility. I would rather deal with this than the alternative, play it safe, expect less yet never realize the satisfaction of achievement beyond what you ever thought possible. So, on that note, here’s to dreaming big. Life is too short not to. I once heard the saying "Aim for the moon; if you fall short, you’ll land somewhere among the stars." I love that saying. It’s all a journey and it’s what we take from it and who it makes us in the process that really matters.