It has been a while since I have been here. There are several reasons for that. But I feel like I owe it to myself to record the experience I had at Vineman 70.3 on Sunday.
Back in November, I decided to sign up for the Vineman 70.3 half Ironman. I have done this race once before and didn’t finish with the outcome that I had hoped for. When I signed up the second time my intent was to go back to the same course and redeem myself, to go have the race that I meant to have the first time. I signed up with my friend, Melissa, who had just completed her first 70.3 event in Austin, TX. I think that training with her on her long bike rides through the Fall had given me the motivation that I needed to turn over $300 to a race designed to test my limits.
Test my limits it did. The next 8 months put me on a roller coaster of training, not training, emotion, and pushing my limits to places I never knew were possible.
My training got off to a good start in January. I had some weight to lose and had some speed to gain over the upcoming 6 months. I hired a coach to help me with designing workouts and give me feedback over the last 3.5 months of my training. It was nice to have some external input on what I was doing but I will admit, I didn’t take advantage of my coach as much as I should have.
Training dropped off a lot in May when my husband and I went on a 10 day vacation to Texas and Barbados. Then I got really sick for a couple of weeks and was coughing up all kinds of muck making it so I couldn’t do anything that increased my respiratory rate, including training. After that, I started going on the road for my job and training went out the window. Bottom line is that starting in May, my training started to drop off a lot.
In mid-June, I hit a mental barrier. I was realizing that the race was about 4 weeks away and that my training for the previous 6 weeks had been less than mediocre and I knew that the upcoming weeks were going to be busier and more stressful than the previous 6. More stress + Less time = A serious lack in training. I talked to all of the people I could think of about this crisis I was having. I talked to my training friend, Melissa. I broke down in tears on the phone with my coach. I looked for a sports psychologist online and when I couldn’t find one I emailed my brother-in-law, an official psych doc, about how to find someone who could help me mentally. Then I cried for 2 hours on the phone with my patient husband while he listened to me work through my issues and revise my goals. The next day, when I had worked through the emotion but not the logic, he listened to me some more. Thank you, Ash, for your patience.
The outcome of the crisis was this: do what you can but go there to have a good experience. It didn’t come easy. It took at least a week for me to arrive here. I contribute a lot of the change in perspective to a book I read by Ironman World Champion, Chrissie Wellington, A Life Without Limits. Chrissie is a truly gifted athlete but I think that what makes her stand head and shoulders above the other athletes in her league is her ability to control her mind. I learned so much about perspective from this book and in the process I was able to change my goals and enjoy the final weeks of my training, even with the minimal effort that I was putting in.
In the days before the race I downloaded an issue of Bicycling magazine that contained a well-timed article on brain training. This article reiterated so much of what I learned in the book but also gave me even more perspective…racing is in your head and if you can learn to control that, you have unlimited possibilities.
I reminded myself of this when I was packing my bag for the race the day/night before. I had written reminders of my goals on my water bottles. The morning of my race I watched the pros get out of the water and head onto the bike. Then, when I got into the water, I reminded myself that my goals were to finish the race with pride and joy. I was so calm in the water! I concentrated on all the right things and when the wrong thoughts came into my mind, I pushed them away. I got out of the water in 42 minutes, 6 minutes faster than the previous time at the event when I was a “faster” swimmer. I realized for the first time that this positive, relaxed racing might actually work!
I zipped through transition and exploded out onto the bike. A few miles in, I checked my heart rate and got my adrenaline under control. I started to concentrate on my nutrition but most importantly, I kept noticing that I was smiling! I was actually having a great time, something that doesn’t always happen when you are cranking your guts out on the pedals. Chrissie was right and really onto something. I zipped passed Ash just after the half way point on the bike. I flashed him a giant smile and checked myself. Last time at this point on the ride I was starting to feel my legs go. I still felt strong. 30 minutes later I got hungry. I have never before eaten solid food on the bike but luckily I had put some in my jersey just before entering the water. I ate my food, drank some water, and stood up on the pedals to get over the next little hill. I realized how much I was learning during the race. I have never listened to my body so closely and obeyed its demands so carefully. The results were great…I was having so much fun!
I sped through the transition from bike to run and headed out. I looked down at my accumulative time and saw that it read 4:00:00. That meant that all I had to do was hold a sub-9:00 pace for the next 13 miles and I would finish under six hours…something I didn’t think was possible, even back in May when I was training pretty well.
I was running a great pace. As I approached the aid station at mile 3 I had to look down at my watch, there was no way I was already at mile 3, I had just gone through mile 2. Sure enough 2.89 on my watch. Even these miles were ticking away, and I still had a giant smile on my face. I ran my fastest mile from 6-7 and then I hit a little bit of a wall. From 7.5-10.5 I started to feel sluggish and I had to take more walk breaks. I probably should have taken one extra gel with me because I could have used one at mile 6 and then again at mile 8. But I didn’t have one with me so I just kept working through it. When I took my gel at mile 10, I was ready to go again. With one mile to go I knew that I would finish under six hours. I started to get emotional but pushed it aside and just started grinning. I headed down the home stretch and finished the race with so much joy and pride.
As I crossed the finish line, I extended my arms above my head and looked down at the ground wearing the happiest smile I have worn in a long time. I started crying a few minutes later and when I finally got to hug my husband I got to release some emotion into his shoulder. I couldn’t help but sob because I was in no shape to do a 5:55:19. I was in shape for a 6:20 or maybe a 6:15. But somehow, through a change of mind, I had made it happen. I had dug to a new depths in my mind and allowed it to push my body beyond the limits that I had previously put on myself. Most importantly, I had a better race than I expected of myself the first time. And with less training.
I am so grateful for the experience I had and for the changing of my mind. I am so happy that I had my closest training friend, Melissa (who also had an amazing day out there!), and my amazing husband, Ash, there to share the experience with me. Thanks to everyone who got me through this experience. I couldn’t have done any of it with out all of you. Best of all, there was no Re-run of the last time I was at the race.