Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Finish Line

"There is no finish line:" it's just one of many Nike slogans that we see on t-shirts and around the Nike campus. I get the thought behind it - every finish line leads to another starting line, so always keep working and searching. The thing is, in the sport of Ironman racing the finish line should be celebrated for just that: a FINISH line! Crossing the line, and hearing Mike Reilly tell you “You are an Ironman” isn’t a time for contemplation of what’s next! It is a finish, an exhale, a conclusion, a celebration, a finish line. The journey to each of my Ironman offers it's own unique challenges. I always remind myself, and new comers to the sport that the training is the hard part, and race day is the reward. The grind is grueling and that finish line....is a finish line to be celebrated with every ounce of energy that still remains in the body upon crossing it.

If there is any advice I could give to others in the sport (especially young professionals), it would be to enjoy and embrace every-single-solitary finish. When I look back at the moments I stood on the podium post-race I wonder if I really took time to celebrate that finish line. I was so hell bent on my ultimate goal of winning an Ironman, that I immediately jumped from a 3rd place finish to thoughts of "not enough." Years ago, during a race as I crossed the 10mile mark of the marathon I was making quick work at running down those in front of me. I had a strong shot to run my way into the top 3, but instead I walked off the course while in 5th because I came there to win (my only DNF Ironman), and third simply wasn’t the finish I sought. I jumped into the next race to go for it again, ironically finishing fifth there. This was the race I made a pack to myself to always appreciate and celebrate every finish line- because they never come easy!

THERE IS A FINISH LINE..... and mine is near. 

In early 2017 I made the decision to start the long journey to return to Ironman racing. I will never be able to thank Julie Dibens enough for accepting me into her JD Crew! I’ve talked and written about her guidance and coaching a fair amount during my time with her, but she simply “gave a shit.” She took me on to help me fall in love with this sport again and wanted to see me find peak fitness and ultimately finish this journey on my own terms.  It’s personal. If you know Dibs, and her accolades, you know that she was forced out of our sport far too early. She was at the very tippy top of our sport but injury demanded she call it quits. First off the bike in Kona….and then forced to retire.  She gives a shit -and successfully brought me back to the form that I had at the (shallow in comparison) peak of my racing career years ago. 

Last October I toe’ed the line at my all time favorite race – Ironman Louisville – ready for redemption. I was back. I wasn’t sure if this race would be my last. I know how hard it is to train to be competitive in the professional field, and how hard it is to pull off that perfect race.  Sadly, at mile 9 I felt a stretch in my ankle, later learning I tore two tendons. It was a “just finish” scenario.  Not the race I was looking for, but was it time to call it quits? Within 24 hours my heart was screaming:  not done yet.

Rehab, strengthening, mobility + a short break from running and it was time to start ramping up training for Ironman New Zealand, a definite bucket list race. Knock it out of the park and I would be satisfied, fulfilled and ready to call it quits. FAITH: believing in things you can not see before receiving complete clarity. FORTITUDE: courage amidst pain or adversity. I've faced adversity of all sorts during my time in the sport, so it was time to overcome once again. I was fit, and truly believed God was ready to work through me to display something special. Sadly, from about 10mins into the swim I felt flat. I tried over and over to push myself, but my body never responded. To say this finish was a disappointment would be a drastic understatement. It took a week of traveling through New Zealand to come back to a positive mental place and to find answers for whether that was indeed my last Ironman finish line. Honestly, I put everything into that build! While struggling through other challenges in life I fell hard onto triathlon as my crutch for emotional support. I was mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally ready for that race!
Witsup Chief Stef capturing the women's race at IMNZ 
Could I get back to that place one more time? It would certainly be a big ask, but in the end I decided to go all in just one-more-time. Just one! Ironman Texas, I’m coming for you. The hard truth of Ironman is that so much can happen on the day. Despite the grueling grind of training 25+ hours a week, there is no guarantee that race day will reflect what you're truly capable of. This is what keeps us all coming back for more! It's a very very very difficult puzzle to solve.  I could bury my head and be discouraged with the result in New Zealand, or choose to stand tall and proud of the process in getting there. Dibs and I knew exactly what I accomplished in the months leading to that race- and it was something to be proud of. 

Ultimately I’ve received a gift that I will always cherish! I get the chance to leave the sport I’ve poured my heart and soul into on my terms! I know going into this race that it will be my last. This is a gift many (maybe even most in our sport) do not get. In 2015/16 I experienced the depression and struggle of believing I was done before my heart was ready.  For the better part of seven year’s I’ve woken up each day with a structured plan for balancing training and work.  Since 2012 I’ve turned away countless social invitations because I was training, working, or too tired from trying to do both.  I’ve only flown without my bike twice in the last 5 years. These are all awesome commitments we make to compete in this glorious sport, but I’m ready for the next chapter. Triathlon has opened this magnificent world to me! I didn’t just travel to amazing countries, but got to know those within these communities as they opened their homes to welcome me to their town or country. I will forever cherish all that triathlon has given me. A lot of professionals feel the sport owes them….but I have received far more from this sport than I ever thought was possible when I decided to jump to the pro ranks. The people!!!!!!! make it so hard to walk away, but my heart knows the time is near.

I get to train for this race knowing it is my last. I get to race with my heart on full display for 140.6 miles, knowing that finish line will be my finale.  I asked God “why” more than once, in the days after IM New Zealand – but in that moment, and while deciding to race again, I realized He was giving me exactly what I was after when I jumped back into the sport last year. Initially I thought I would race Challenge Taiwan, but I decided to race where I'd have support of friends, coach and colleagues. I've spent a fair bit of time in The Woodlands for training camps and racing, and I love the atmosphere and people here. Yes, I am toe’ing the line at one of the most competitive races on the pro calendar, but sharing the day with a coach that brought me back to embrace this very opportunity makes it well worth it.  Race locally with people who have enhanced this journey won out - the more the merrier!

You better believe I’m giving it my all in this final training block, as this race is all about digging deep to reach MY FINAL Ironman Finish Line!

Ironman Texas 2013- (second year racing as a pro).
What a journey it's been!!! 


3 comments:

RedRock88 said...

Best of luck!!!

Kevin Costa said...

Wow, simply amazing and inspiring ~ Thank you for articulating with such passion insight and wisdom ~ truly heartfelt and much appreciated!!

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