Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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Finding No Meaning: A Training Story

Easter holiday time, no matter what your religion, can be a good opportunity to refresh: to make new goals or re-double our efforts toward the ones we set earlier in the year. Life happens pretty fast, and, if we don’t take these chances to pop our heads up and assess how we’re doing, like any open water swimmer can tell you, we can end up way off course.

However, while we assess our goals, we should also take a moment to  ask ourselves: are we packaging our goals with a degree of self care and objectivity?

I ask this question because most athletes that I know work very hard to achieve certain goals. In working toward a goal, taking measurements, striving day after day, we tend to grow emotionally attached to our goals. While these emotions become attached to goals, they are often deeply rooted within ourselves, frequently attached to certain perceptions we have about ourselves, the same perceptions that create inner monologues and value judgements based on what we do or don’t do. These perceptions have been honed over time, and I have yet to meet a person who lacks any. Still, it’s what you do with these perceptions and feelings that have a profound affect on your overall well-being as you work to reach your goals.

A few weeks ago, Coach Mikey had us doing my least favorite breathing exercise: 50 yd breathing every 3, 50 yd breathing every 5, 50 yd breathing every 7, 50 yd breathing every 5. Even though I can do 25 yards without breathing at all, somehow, the counting trips me up, and I find myself gasping for air after the second 50.

Stopping for a second to look up at Mikey, I shook my head and said, “I don’t know why I can’t seem to handle this drill.”

Mikey, completely unconcerned, looked at me briefly, and said, “Don’t make it mean anything.”

Oh. Okay. I shrugged off my concerns and kept swimming, caring less about how crappy I was at the drill, and moving forward, relieved from the burden of over-thinking, without much emotion toward it at all.

But that moment was poignant. Her words were like an arrow plunging straight into the roots and earth of every problem I ever had. Hadn’t I always made pretty much everything mean something? Hadn’t I always related every goal and every interaction with other people to some deep insecurity or value judgment of myself?

While racing, every DNF, while I gave my best speeches about how I tried my best and that’s what counted, somehow, deeply, meant that I just didn’t have it in me to be a real triathlete, that I was foolish for thinking so. While at work, every time I tripped up during a big presentation meant that I just didn’t have what it took to be successful. While dating, every guy who wasn’t in the right place to have a relationship, I secretly thought, “…with me.” Sense a theme here?

I have attached so much meaning to tiny, little blips in the grand scheme of things, that every time I have not been absolutely perfect has threatened to rip down the grand scheme of my life. In reality, the stakes are not that high. Furthermore, stumbles and blips are natural, and can sometimes mean, counterintuitively, that  you ARE making progress.

So, lately, when I’ve caught myself getting wrapped up in those emotional roots over a tiny blip, I pop my head up, look around, take a deep breath, and keep swimming.

Waves have their ups and downs. Keep on swimming!

Waves have their ups and downs. Keep on swimming!


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The “Raw”, But Poignant End: A Diet Story

I feel like I am being a bit misleading, writing about the end of my intended two-week raw diet at what would be the actual end of my two-week raw diet, when actually, my two-week raw diet was only one week long. Why? Well, apparently, detoxing after doing an ironman isn’t as good of an idea as I had thought.

Trying to run after an Ironman distance race is an experience. Even when you feel fit and healthy, and like you can actually run a distance, your body surprises you by breaking down mid-way through, or going at a pace much slower than what you’re used to doing. Combine that with a low carb, lower protein diet, and it’s definitely not a good situation. Even now, I struggle to go a full hour, both mentally and physically, and to go at a 9-10 min pace is, at times, laughable at that distance.

I read through one of my favorite raw athlete’s blog FAQ when trying to figure out whether I should continue going raw, and discovered that he took a full year off of training after going raw because, he said, that the detox symptoms were just too intense. I knew I was making the right move by cutting things short.

The good news is that I DID get something out of it. My appetite is regulated, and my monstrous desire for sweet and carby snacks has gone away. My daily energy has returned and my mood has shifted to a much more healthy and upbeat one. I no longer wish to hide from the world and cry, which is awesome.

Further, I’ve decided that I’m going to do Wildflower Long Course again next year, and work on having fun and being fitter, faster and stronger. I’ve started to re-add Pilates to my life, and maybe I’ll do some kickboxing, just to mix things up in the off-season. I’m holding off on any marathons until after Wildflower. Next year, I may do Catalina again in November, followed by the Avalon 50-miler in January. I will always and forever be a runner at heart. Now, if only my body would recover so that I can be one for real again…*sigh* Patience is a virtue.


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The Weighty Aftermath: A Post-Ironman Story

When I started this journey, I definitely had an image of what an IronWoman looked like –rippling abs, lean, strong limbs, sun-kissed skin—but, as time stretched on, I discovered that chiseled muscles were a lot harder to get, and that extra fat was a lot easier to gain than I thought.

You might say: Whaaatt? You burned, like, 12,000 calories in a single weekend, and you GAINED weight?  How is that even possible?!?!

When you look at things from the perspective of how much exercise you’re putting your body through, it seems unfathomable that a person could ever eat that many calories. Still, as we all know, those pesky calories can add up, and, if you’re not careful (which is difficult to be when you’re training , and I’ll explain why), you will end up consuming more calories than you burn, even (and especially) in the final weeks of training.

During the first 3-5 months of Ironman training, I began to lose a bit of the bulge that I’d accumulated over the holiday season (I stepped on the scale in December, only to be greeted by quick and dirty 10 lbs of post-marathon flub).  While training continued to ramp up, I started to feel a bit more “back to normal”, size-wise. I followed my cravings, and, mostly, my cravings steered me toward healthy foods, like protein-packed salads, or low-carb items like meat (I was never a big meat eater before, but I craved steak like crazy).  Most of what I craved wasn’t heavily fatty or carb-y, although I did enjoy dessert more often because, heck, when else would I get that kind of caloric “freebie”?

Somewhere along the way, something began to change. I began to crave carbs like a ravenous sugar monster. Sweets, cookies and pasta didn’t stand a chance against my crazy appetite. I could eat a huge plate of pasta and NOT be disgustingly stuffed afterward, merely pleasantly satisfied. It was a problem. My body began to respond, and puff up, and my jeans got tighter.  At first, I told myself that maybe it was just water weight from all of the electrolytes we’d been consuming, but pretty soon, the weight gain was undeniable. This past month, I had to squeeze to button jeans that had previously been baggy on me.

Why did things switch? Well, I am not a doctor, but I have a theory. While cycling, triathletes must consume a cocktail of calories, carbs and electrolytes, typically in liquid format, and, on really long rides, some of us also consume some kind of high-calorie bar. We consume, on average, about 300 calories/hour on that bike. For a five-hour ride, that’s 1500 calories of pure sugar.  Yes, we need it, and yes, we use it, but that sets the body into motion for craving high levels of sugar to sustain itself.

During the week, my body screamed for sugar. On top of that, the sheer amount of exercise caused the hunger beast to rear its head 24/7. At times I would eat a full meal, only to have the wild hunger beast clawing at my stomach an hour later. It was insane.

It wasn’t so much what I ate on weekends, but what I ate during the week, that, I am pretty sure, caused me to pack on weight. Work’s cafeteria became a way for me to dive into all of the forbidden foods I would never have consumed regularly pre-IM training: creamy fettuccini alfredo, savory crepes filled with cheese and egg, burritos with cheese and sour cream, au gratin potatoes (you get it—the cheese and carbs are kind of my thing). At night, I could gulp down a whole package of organic whole grain mac & cheese, or a huge plate of cheese ravioli. And let’s not forget dessert: a giant cookie every day at lunch, and some sort of chocolate or ice cream at home.

No, I didn’t really try to curb my eating habits while training. I had come so far after my binge eating problem to train myself to listen to my body and what it was craving, that I didn’t want to be unnecessarily hard on myself. It wasn’t like I was gaining a huge amount of weight, and, by the time I realized it, the season was almost over anyway. I figured, “Eh, let me have this one time in my life to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. When am I going to have this opportunity again?”

 So, here we are, at post-Ironman weight, a number of which I have no idea, because I never step on a scale (I’m guessing 15 lbs, since it takes 15 lbs to go up one whole pant size). Still, it’s not the kind of weight where it’s very noticeable to the outsider, the kind of weight where mean girls talk behind your back about the expansion of your rear view. Ideally, I’d like to drop 20-25 lbs to be the best me I can be. Here’s the rub: the cycle of carb addiction. While I’m no longer consuming vast amounts of sugary beverages every weekend, my body still likes carbs a bit too much and wants me to eat them.

I’ve dealt with this before, when breaking my binge eating cycle (also mainly due to carb addiction), and I’ll go about changing my habits the same way that I did before. For two weeks, I will go on a raw food “cleanse” (I hate that word—it’s so hippie dippy), to eliminate all of the effects of the processed and refined sugars and foods in my body. It worked magnificently last time, and I was able to crave healthy foods again afterward. Unlike crazy L.A. dieters, I don’t expect any huge weight loss, but if that kick-starts me and makes me feel a bit less bloated and gross, then, yay.

It’s not any strict diet, but simply raw fruits, veggies and nuts, in unlimited supply (except for avos, coconuts, nuts and bananas, which can be really caloric), with a naturally sweetened, low sugar protein shake (made with water or juice) for breakfast, plus plenty of sleep and regular exercise. Any condiments are limited (although red and white wine vinegar and lemon are sometimes okay).

Afterward, I will incorporate cooked foods, spices and more proteins for a week, and, eventually, will go back to eating select whole grains, and even the occasional treat, listening and keeping an active dialogue with my body to figure out whether I really NEED a certain food, or whether it’s just a passing craving.

Luckily, the exercise will be ramping back up as well. Last week, I had a fun hour+ long bike ride with friends (and Coach Brad, who made us do one Amalfi hill loop-grr), and this morning I got in a 25-min run (which was much less painful than I thought it would be). This week, it’ll be swimming, more running, more cycling, and maybe some Pilates thrown in, just to mix it up. Let the reverse taper begin!

 


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Lost In A Dream: A Post-Race Story

One of the most common ailments of Ironmen and women is “The Post-Ironman Blues”, usually a combo of melancholy, restlessness, and mental strife that comes after devoting your mind, body and spirit to something for nine or more months, only to have it all end abruptly after one colossal tidal wave of a day washes over your life and strips it bare again.

The hilarity I find in this is that we spend these nine months fantasizing about what our lives will be after it’s all over, and we have “all of the free time in the world to do whatever we want.” I dreamed of re-organizing my apartment, taking hikes with the dog, getting back into Pilates, painting, taking woodworking classes, music concerts, going to art shows, enjoying the beach, and so much more. One week post Ironman, I have made no moves to do any of these things. I still can’t get enough sleep. Furthermore, this void, this nothingness, feels unnatural. I thought that I could go back to being the me that I was before I started this. The truth is, I cannot go back. Something in me is forever changed. I don’t know what that means, and how I can fit into the “normal” world again, but I guess that it’s safe to say that I feel a little bit lost.

The only thing that I have planned is a marathon, because I know for certain that running is a part of me now, but what else? What next? Who am I? What do I want? These questions I never thought that I’d be asking myself at 33 years of age. I thought that I’d had these things figured out before now. Now, without that looming goal in front of me, and all of the little goals in-between, I’m having to re-define myself.

Of course, people keep asking whether I’ll want to “seek revenge” on the Vineman course next year. While there is a part of me who wants to know what it feels like to cross an Ironman finish line, I felt happy with everything that I accomplished. I have no regrets out there on the course. If I hadn’t finished the bike course, I would have been filled to the gills with regrets, but I accomplished what I set out to do. So, what next? Do I pick out another Ironman and set my sites on it, or do I find other goals and come back to it later?

It’s all a big question mark, but I do know that I’m no longer the same person I was when I started this journey. I am more patient with myself, more grateful, and tough as nails, to boot. I can do anything that I put my mind to. The world is my oyster and I have a feeling that there are still a lot more pearls to discover about myself.

What now?

What now?

 


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Nerves: A Pre-Race Story

Less than a week to Vineman, and it’s really here, it’s really happening. Nine months of slaying fear dragons and getting knocked about, and here we are. It’s strange when you’re training for something for that long. It feels like you’re just going to be in “training mode” forever and that, somehow, the actual day of reckoning will never arrive, but will simply loom, mirage-like, on the horizon. Now the illusion is materializing, and, with it, of course, comes a windfall of hard realities.

My anxieties over my bike time have always hovered in the background, as I have watched my teammates become amazing athletes and cyclists, and I’ve stayed lagging behind, repeating Teddy Roosevelt’s words, “Comparison is the thief of joy” in my head as my mantra. Now I have to face the hard edge of truth, that, I’ll have little margin for error on that bike. Come hell or high water, I have to push, push, push, through pain, through tears, through any random curveball that comes my way.

Last weekend, Coach Jason told me to “keep moving forward”, no matter what. Even if I do face dire challenges that put me in the position of not being able to make that bike cutoff. “Don’t stop until they come sweep you off the course,” Jason advised.

So many of my coaches and friends have told me that they key to accomplishing what I want to accomplish on that bike course lies in my own tangled brain. I should believe, with my whole heart, that I can finish this bike leg, that I can make the cut off. So, when all else fails, I must arm myself with facts:

1) I have been training all season long for this race. I have the strength and endurance within me.

2) I know that I can finish 100 miles in 7.5 hours WITH lots of long stops, so there is no reason to believe that I cannot finish 112 miles in 8.5-9 hours.

3) Race day will provide lots of motivation and adrenaline, and Vineman is a beautiful bike route to provide distractions.

4) I cannot gauge my performance based on what happened at Vineman Training Weekend. Besides the temp climbing to 104 degrees F, my Accelerade did not absorb, causing me to bonk early on. Note: Prior to bonking, I was making good time out on the course.

5) I cannot compare myself to others. As long as I remain within my own pace requirements, I can focus on enjoying the day and appreciating everything that I’ve done to get here.

I will try to keep this logic in my back pocket. I think I will write “Believe” on my arms to keep me in a positive head space during the ride. Once the ride is over, I get to jam on the run (and by “jam” I mean keep a steady 10:30 pace throughout, if possible–Vineman’s run is a little bit tough).

I suppose that, even typing through these thoughts, I feel a bit better. Rather than letting my emotions gulp me down into a neverending rabbit hole of strained nerves and sick stomachs, I’ll try to remind myself to get back to the real world and look at the evidence of my own success.

And, again, so what if I don’t finish? Anything can happen on race day. It’s a long a$$ day. What happens? Well, yes, it’s disappointing to have to come home with a medal-free neck, like I did at Wildflower, but, really, was the medal the point of all of this? You don’t get to wear all of the things that you have accomplished on the outside, but they still show. I walk a little taller now, fear challenges a little bit less, I live with the knowledge that, if you really want something, you can go for it with your whole heart, and you can achieve things you never imagined you could do. I live with the knowledge that I’m tougher than I look, and that I have the strength to weather any of life’s natural disasters.

Of all of the strengths I’ve gained during these last nine months, the most powerful is the strength to believe in myself.  With that strength, I’ll keep the forward momentum.


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Even The Best-Laid Plans Get Scrambled: A Training Story

Milestones. Sometimes they’re physical and tangible, like crossing a state line to a place you’ve never been, and sometimes they exist in hidden spaces inside the self. Either way, they are a gateway to a new layer of self, a new dimension of seeing the world, whether their impact is large or small.

This week was our scheduled 100-mile ride, or a “Century”, as spandex-clad Tour de France fanboys tend to call it (and as it’s known in the world of cycling). Century sounds a bit epic and intimidating, like standing at the edge of a cliff and looking way, way down at the infinite landscape stretching on and on for 100 whole miles. 100-miler sounds more like taking one mile at a time, in small bites, til you get there.

No matter what you call it, I was doing it. The team met in a new spot along the Pacific Coast Highway, and I managed to somehow let my GPS lead me astray in getting there. As if 100-miles were not intimidating enough, I ended up arriving just in time to throw on my helmet and scramble onto my bike to catch up with my already-wheeling away teammates.

My goal this week was to relax, to let myself have fun this day, and not worry too much about my time, or about being separated from the pack. Typically anyway, everyone sort of spreads out during the long rides. I was going to keep it steady, focus on keeping my breathing even, and avoid panicking about anything for every mile until the end.

It was going okay, but then it wasn’t so okay Within the first 20 miles out into Ventura County, I began to get a familiar cramping in my thighs and hip. For some reason, my body really does not like that stretch of the PCH. Luckily, I managed to get to the mile 25 SAG station and hop off to get in a long, long stretch session, which enormously helped things.

There are always spots on the PCH that are no fun, like long climbs along lots of beach-going parked cars, and stretches where you can’t really see much of anything cool, and you just have to keep on truckin’ til you do get to something cool. I can definitely think of worse places to bike, scenery-wise, but sometimes the cars and trucks zooming past you while you hug a small sliver of shoulder can be intimidating.

Overall, I was handling my ride pretty well, all things considered, and I was keeping up a nice little merry clip– not all-out, but a good, happy-legged pace. Best of all, even when I had to dig deep, my mind hovered just above that really nasty ditch-place, the one that’s really hard to get out of, once you’re in there, and it’s a really dark, desperately tragic, alone spot to be in.

At the second SAG spot, at the turnaround to head back out to Los Posas in Ventura County, I met up with one of my teammates, Lisa, who’d already “been there, done that” at Ironman Coeur D’Alene the previous month, but who had come out (along with many other already Ironman teammates) to ride support with us along the way. Lisa and I chatted easily along the road, maintaining a 15-17 mph pace along most of the flats and moderate inclines. She told me about how she maintained an easy-going pace, and still had plenty of time to finish her race. Of course, I thought, she had 17 hours to finish hers, whereas Vineman racers only have 16 hours. Yipe and yipe.

Before I realized it, I’d cycled out to Ventura and back to the first SAG station. Over 60 miles killed, and only 40 to go. And I still hadn’t gone to a really dark place. Things were not sucking. I was actually enjoying myself. And keeping a decent pace (for me) just over four hours in.

Back again to the turnaround I went. Lisa had left me to myself at SAG, but the fun I’d had riding along with her on that second loop remained. Though, admittedly, the cycling was getting a little bit harder as my legs and body fatigued, my attitude and outlook were still, as compared to my other monstrous cryfests, really awesome.

I saw my speedier teammates heading back toward the start line, figuring they were probably about an hour ahead of me, overall. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Conversely, if you’re feeling happy, then you don’t feel much like comparing yourself to others. Seeing them speed by, the only thing I could think was, Wow, they must be really happy to be that much closer to being over this ride.

I knew it would be my turn to be “over” the ride soon enough. Heading back toward the start, there was a ton of traffic, plus lots of long, not too steep climbs that really required some deeper digging, just to get past them.

Finally, I could see it, the FINISH. Seven hours and twenty minutes in, I was almost there. It was happening. I could almost taste it. Then, SPLAT!

It wasn’t so much a “splat” really, but it happened as fast as a splat would. Something caused my handlebars to jerk crazily to the side, and, before I knew it, I was flying head-first toward the ground at 16 mph. Luckily, my years of horseback riding training had subconsciously prepared me for any fall, as if my brain knows, “Ground contact is immanent. Prepare to go limp in 5, 4,  3…”

My shoulder took the brunt of the impact, although I quickly became aware of my face sliding across the pavement as well. Just to show where my priorities were at that moment, I remember thinking: No! Not my face! I have meetings at company headquarters tomorrow! I tried to pick my head up as much as I could, even though sheer inertia (and my bike) had me somewhat pinned to the concrete.

I landed with my bike on top of me, and I was in pain. Luckily, it was a holiday weekend, so there were lots of people around to witness my spill. Some woman in a long, jersey dress had stopped along with a couple of men and another, older woman. The jersey dress lady pulled my bike off of me and asked if I was okay. My knee, shoulder and face were bleeding. She was convinced I had hit my head (I had not), and called the paramedics. Meanwhile, a nice man helped to pick me up off of the ground, once I determined that nothing was broken.

I called Jason, who showed up almost immediately (I was only a half mile from the finish), and waited with me until the paramedics appeared, which was also almost instantaneous. They slapped on a crude gauze bandage and put me through some standard brain damage tests. Then, we loaded my bike into the car and headed back to where I started.

Tears flowed freely, maybe a bit because I was in shock, but mostly because I had experienced the greatest ride of my life, and had it end SO suckily that it trumped all of my other spills and mishaps. My insides were stuck on some kind of looping coaster of emotion and couldn’t make sense of any of it.

The next day, we were scheduled to swim two miles and run 20. For obvious reasons, swimming in salt water was out, but I was determined, soreness and all, that I was going to attempt the run.

I started out a little faster than I should have, given that both of my knees and body were pretty banged up. By mile 11, my shoulder and back were beginning to cramp up . I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue.

“I’m just not sure about this…” I began to tell Jason.

“Listen, I know you can run a marathon, but, mentally, I need you to finish what everyone else is doing. If it gets too painful, just walk it out, but you need to finish the mileage,” Jason calmly, but firmly laid down the law.

Booh. This was not going to be easy. Everything hurt. It was hot. I hated the whole world. But eff if I was going to “walk out” the next nine miles. I just kept on going.

While, yes, the mileage was much slower, and much, much more painful than it would have been had I not been body slammed into the concrete the day before, I finished what I started in just over four hours.

“So, theoretically, I could do a sub-five hour marathon on race day,” I mused to Coach Emily while stretching out my ridiculously sore body.

“Yes, you could,” Emily replied. “But don’t hold yourself to that.”

Sure, anything can happen on race day, but I’ve already experienced my fair share of banana peels, monkey wretches, and other such plan-spoiling devices. And, more importantly: I know that I am prepared for anything, that, mentally, I can take the hard knocks.

Vineman, I’m coming for you. And I’m more than ready.

Built Iron-TOUGH!

Built Iron-TOUGH!

P.S. It’s the last weekend to donate to support me and to fight cancer. Please click here to help: http://pages.teamintraining.org/los/VineFIrn13/SDIronWoman


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So, Then What? A Training Story

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.