Yesterday’s challenge: A 4/2 brick, four solid hours on the bike, followed by two on the run. It was two hours short of the epic 5/3 brick, which is going to be our last big workout before we taper for Vineman.
Our small group of Viners gathered in Westlake, headed by substitute coach, Pete, who was a participant this year, but who has been a TNT coach over the years, as well as a seasoned triathlete and Ironman himself. Our team of coaches were in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, helping and cheering for our fellow teammates as they completed their journey to becoming Ironmen.
The course Pete designed took us up and over Potrero Rd hills, through a few Cat 5 climbs, and then looped onto Agora Rd, where we met lots of little climbs and rollers along the way. As usual, the pack pulled away from me, at a 20+ mph pace, early on. Spinning at 17-18 mph up Potrero, I felt the ever-yawning stretch between me and the group pull my heart downward. I was last…and alone…again. The panic began.
The course felt like climb after climb, after climb, which didn’t afford me many chances to speed up or maintain a higher pace. My breath remained quick. I got stuck at every light, it seemed, and made a wrong turn and had to walk my bike back across two crosswalks to get back on track. Then, I discovered that my front wheel was loose, and my rear wheel had the brake pads knocked out of alignment. Some older guy stopped and talked my ear off about fixing bike wheels (everyone’s an expert), and, then, finally I got back along my not-so-merry way.
Watching the clock, I could see how much valuable time all of the stops were sucking up. According to me odometer, I was going along at a 15-16 mph pace, but, overall, I was barely over 11 mph, nearly two hours in. Plus the climbs seemed to suck me into a tar pit of slowness. I would watch as my pace slowed to 6 mph up some of the rollers, and I knew that it was a shortcoming in me, because none of my teammates where spinning that slowly up the hills. I started hyperventilating.
Does this mean I suck? Am I not going to finish the bike on race day? Will this amount to yet another DNF?
The thoughts raced through my mind. My breathing staccatod and unnatural, rushed in and out of my lungs. I couldn’t seem to control it. I wrestled with the air, trying to take deep breaths, to keep my muscles oxygenated, but I couldn’t seem to regain consistent control.
At the 40-mile mark, I looped back into the parking lot, where Pete asked me how I was doing. I told him I wasn’t doing great, emotionally. He told me to quit worrying about everyone else and about my overall mileage, and just to get out there and ride my bike.
I tried. I worked on keeping consistent and fast-ish pacing. When I saw one of our faster riders heading in from a longer loop that the one I was on, I made it a goal to keep up and keep pace with her for the stretch of road that we were on. Keeping up with her gave me a slight burst of confidence, at least for a short stretch.
Shortly thereafter, we headed out on our 2-hour run, back up Potrero, with some consistent climbs as the heat overhead began to rise. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good on the run, and I kept a consistent 9-10 min/mile pace for the first six miles, but Gatorade bottles were depleted by mile 6 and I was quickly becoming dehydrated and upset because of it. I began to walk more to conserve my energy and sweat, since I didn’t know where the heck I’d see Pete next.
By mile 7, I saw Pete and got refilled, along with an extra mini-Gatorade bottle to swig on. While my run pace remained fairly consistent, I took quite a few more walk breaks in the heat than what I normally would have done. In the end, I finished 11 total miles in just under two hours, which, for really hilly and hot, I guess is acceptable.
After practice, Pete had a talk with me. Reason #555 why Pete is amazing is that he doesn’t sugarcoat what you need to hear, and he honestly cares.
“You have got to stop the negative self talk,” he told me. “I’m serious.”
He explained that the negative self talk, above the physical aspects of the race, would be the thing to hurt me. As history had shown, it wasn’t exactly helping my life. I just didn’t know how to get rid of it.
He told me that I needed to find something to replace it with, something that felt true to me, that didn’t feel trite or contrived. One thing he said that he does when times get tough on the bike and he starts to go to that negative place, he reserves one special phrase that doesn’t often get used when we talk to ourselves. He says, “I’m proud of you, Pete.” Just like that. Out loud.
I had never said that to myself, especially while riding my bike. I’m hard on myself, I suppose. All people attempting the Ironman are. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here, I guess. I was willing to give that phrase a shot.
But then, what of the fear? The anxiety that always came with every ride. I felt like, although I was getting stronger on the bike, so was everyone else, and that I would never catch up to them. And that, somehow, the team was a marker for how I was going to fare in my race. Pete had me look into the face of my fear: What if I didn’t finish? What then?
Surely my life wasn’t over. I could try this again another time. I could be more patient with myself and more forgiving–to go from non-triathlete to Ironwoman in 8 months time, that’s quite a feat. Especially for someone who was never very athletic or coordinated.
More importantly, I could look at where I started, and how far I’d come. I could think back to all of the times I fell while learning to clip in, and of that epic day in Palos Verdes, when I climbed up all of Hawthorne without stopping. Those memories of how I conquered my fears, those feelings of triumph, I earned those. I went from shaky newbie triathlete to someone who swims, bikes and even runs with more confidence than ever before. The things that I can do today make me a stronger person, a forever changed person, and, in the end, I don’t need a medal to prove that I am an Ironwoman. I am today, and maybe I’ve always been one, deep down inside.
So what if I don’t finish the bike? I am proud of myself anyway.