I was given a great gift last week.
As I stood in the starting corral for Ironman Maryland, I knew I was ready. Even with the impending hoard of stinging jellyfish that I was about to encounter for my 2.4 mile swim, I felt relaxed, focused, and ready. I guess it is pretty rare, but for some reason, this year had a huge jellyfish influx.
I jumped in the water and started my swim. It didn't take long for the first sting to hit my face, but it wasn't bad and I felt like I got stronger as I went on. I came out of the water with a personal best swim time. In fact, I beat it by almost 10 mins and had myself in contention with the top swimmers.
Now, it was time for the bike. 112 miles along the Chesapeake Bay region - a beautiful ride. I felt good. My legs were ready and I got into a smooth cycle stride averaging a little over 20 miles an hour. As we got into the course, the headwind picked up which made me have to work a little harder, but I kept the pace and I came off the bike with another personal record. I was pacing to beat my best Ironman time by over 1.5 hours!
I was really excited and envisioning a great finish after the marathon I had left in front of me. But something happened. In the last 20 mins of the ride, I noticed that I started to get dry mouth. The sun had come out and the temps had gone up about 10 degrees, but I was following my nutrition regiment and getting plenty of fluids, so I didn't think much of it.
About 5 miles into the run, it began. I started to feel lightheaded, almost dizzy. I was feeling "very hot," and no matter how much water I drank, I could not seem to shake it. I slowed down, started walking and as I got to about mile 12, I almost tumbled over. I stopped and sat down on the ground. My head was spinning. I could not stand up. I was cursing myself as I had set myself up for such an amazing race and victory over my personal times as well as for my rank worldwide as an Ironman racer.
I was on the ground for about 20 mins until I brought back up just about every fluid and energy gel I had had for the last two hours. I felt a little better and decided to continue on.
Do you know what is worse than running a shitty marathon? Walking a shitty marathon. I walked the 20 or so miles I had to go to cross that finish line. I doubted myself. I wondered if I should drop out. I worried about my health and if I was doing any lasting damage to my body. But, I have never not dropped out of a race in my life and I wasn't about to make this one the first - especially after the record times I had in the other areas.
I was angry, tired, and pissed off at the fact that I had a top finish in both time and rank in my grasp, and was losing it with every walking step I took. In fact, at the pace I was going, I wasn't going to come close to the time of my last Ironman - which I had been on pace to blow out of the water.
It was a gift. If I had not gone through this experience and had run a good marathon finishing where I had expected, I would never have known what it was like to feel defeated by this great race and find the mental and physical fortitude to keep going and get across the finish line. The psychological warfare I had to get through in my head to finish was the toughest I have ever encountered - and I speak on this stuff!
For the first time in one of these races, I truly understood why people give up and tap out. I truly understood how it can beat you. And it took every ounce of my being to not let it defeat me.
It took me 6.5 hours to finish that marathon. I got across the finish line several hours past the time I had been pacing for when I got off the bike. But, I made it. I finished it. I was defeated in that I did not reach my potential - but I was renewed in that I now know that I have a deeper reservoir to overcome and persevere through serious challenge. What a gift.
And now it's time to get back on the horse. I know where I need to train harder and I know how much further I can push my limits. I am now more energized and driven than I have ever been to reach my potential in this sport. And I owe it all to a bittersweet defeat.
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