Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Best Day

So here are my final thoughts about Ironman Arizona.

I am 31 years old. I have never been married. I have no kids. Perhaps in the future this may happen, and if they do, I am sure they will be great.

But right now, as I sit in bed, three days removed from the event, I can say that Sunday was undoubtedly the best day of my life.

I had my family, my friends, the blogger community - so many people screaming for me, helping me, pouring salt in my hands, giving me gatorade snow cones – my sister Devin even ran to the nearest health food store to buy electrolytes tablets to keep me going, and my other sister Ellen ran in flip flops next to me for almost a mile, giving me encouraging words all the way. I thrived off that energy – I literally lived for the next friendly face in the crowd, or the next stranger to stick a cup of chicken broth in my sweaty hands.

Even as I sit here now, I can say with 100% certainty that I loved every minute of that day. Even the pain of the run seems minimal to my overall euphoria of the day – so many times on the bike I said out loud to myself (of course, after looking over my shoulder to make sure no one could hear me), “I can’t believe I am here, I can’t believe I am doing Ironman, I can’t believe this is happening.” The smiles on my face in my pictures were there all day, even under the grimaces of pain on the run.

As I have mentioned, I was blessed to have no major medical problems. At one point, I told my sister Devin, as she walked next to me at Mile Am-I-the-Hell-Done-Yet?, that things felt like they were shutting down – I needed salt, my muscles were spasming, my belly ached from bloat, my head throbbed from the heat, and the blister on the back of my heel made it difficult to run uphill.

But in hindsight, I wasn’t shutting down. I was whole -albeit hurting - but I was fine.

I could not have asked for anything else out of the day.

I just watched a recap video of that day, and the tears started flowing again – there was so much I remember, yet so much I overlooked. There was just SO MUCH to take in, to absorb. Weird how the longest day of my life was also the shortest and fastest.

I guess what kept me sane was that I had no expectation for the day. I wanted to finish, and that was all. Sure, I had some idea of what times I should be completing each discipline in, but I refused to look at my watch, refused to let me mind get in the way of just loving the day and being grateful for the moment.

I approached each day leading up the race with awe – I allowed myself to be overwhelmed with anticipation, but refused to get anxious, nervous, worried. I was just excited. I mean, I teared up when I got my bracelet and my numbers, but I was just so overwhelmed with excitement.

The ease at which I approached those few days was a stark contrast to my anxiety over the last few months. At times, I didn’t even feel like the same person. I didn’t let anything annoy me, I didn’t get irritable, I didn’t bitch and moan about anything (oh, except for that whole US Triathlon membership nonsense – that pissed me off ). Even when the weather reports poured in about the heat, or the bike pump guy told me I had slow leaks in my tired 30 minutes before the race started (I didn’t), I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Oh well, what can I do about it now?”

Who was this girl?!?!

And how can I get her to stick around?

If I worried at all, it was about my family being in the sun all day, about them not getting enough to eat, or getting burned or overheated, or even bored. When I saw them at one of the intersection on the bike, I rode as fast as I could to see them again, and then kept riding as fast so I could to finish the bike leg and let them go back to town and get out of the oppressive sun. Worrying about them kept me from worrying about myself, and oddly, that seemed to help.

Since this was my first, I definitely learned some lessons – the salt issue being one of them (boy was I unprepared for that – hydration is one thing I did well, but that salt was not) and the blister being the other. I got it at about 1.5 mile on the run, and should have stopped to care for it, but I kept going, and it got worse. It definitely slowed me down on the hills, making it excruciating to run up them.

The only other thing I would have done differently is slowed down at the finish to take in those final moments. But that last mile, I was very aware of who was around me, because I was intent on crossing that line alone – I didn’t want to get in the way of another racer breaking their tape, and I didn’t want anyone sprinting in front of me and ruining my moment either. But there was a guy right behind me (you can even see him in the finish picture), dead set on making this happen, so I sprinted that last stretch. I was going so fast I didn’t hear my name, but I was able to see my family almost falling over the barricades screaming, and then see my sister Devin (who snuck into the finish chute) taking my pictures and giving me my first hug as an Ironman.

Even as I write this, I still cry when I think about those seconds – Devin with tears streaming down her face, me leaping into the air and screaming at the top of my exhausted lungs, both of us leaning into each other in relieved hysteria. Ellen and my mom with ear-to-ear smiles and tears in their eyes, the bear hug and whispers of “I Love You” from Cheese, the obvious pride of Nolan in his Forest Gump outfit, the look of awe from my friend Adrienne.

I did that - I made them proud.

The days since the event, things have been up and down. Working for something so intensely for two years, and the completing it left me with a deafening silence, compounded by my family leaving the next day. Going from the highest highs to the normal life was like a massive slap in the face. The PIBs (Post Ironman Blues) crept up faster than I anticipated, and it left me in sobs for most of Monday.

I arrived back in Chicago yesterday to the realization that my life is still the same. Maybe not as structured and organized around daily workouts, but mostly my life is the same. I came home to the same job, the same stress, the same bills, and sadly, the same studio apartment.

I, however, am not the same.

I don’t feel like that insecure girl that has posted about her weight, or her looks, or her abilities. I don’t feel the self-doubt that I felt just a few weeks back.

Instead, I feel strong. I feel happy. I feel confident. I feel like I showed up to the race with all I had, and that was “good enough.” I was finally good enough. I feel like all that mental muscle I developed over the last two years finally emerged to say, “Hey, you are better than what you have given yourself credit for, you are better than the pettiness of the conflicts around you, you are better than accepting the mediocre.” The fact that quitting never entered my mind throughout the entire 14-plus hours alone was the greatest testament to some internal change.

People have said that once you do Ironman, you can do anything.

Yeah, I feel like that.

I still haven’t managed to take off my IM identification bracelet – I feel like when I do, it will finally be over, and I am not yet ready for that to happen.

And while I feel like I have a million more words and tears still left in me about this experience, for right now, this is all I will say about Ironman.

Until the next one.


stronger said...

I know I've told you, but I want to tell everyone...we saw all the athletes on the run (some all three loops) and you had the best attitude out there! Most athletes were barely hanging in and you had a gigantic smile plastered on your face and a special spring in your step. It was fun to watch. It was your victory lap- a celebration of Megan.

Team Brazo said...

Awesome post. Brought back many of my thoughts and feelings when I finished IronMan Wisconsin 2007. Funny how the IronMan "thing" seems to affect many of us the same way.

I'm surprised I'm not still wearing my id braclet - even though it was a week or so later that it came off!


Duane said...

Fantastic post Megan!

The Clyde said...

Awesome post Megan!!

So Florida 2010 it is, right?

(Assuming I make it through IMWI this year that is).

momo said...

i told you so. just like childbirth. when you're in the middle of it, you're thinking - never, never again - but afterwards, somehow the pain is dulled and all you're left with is this incredible feeling of accomplishment.

you done good, girlfriend.

tarheeltri said...

Great post. Awesome pictures. The way you captured the day here got me choked up a bit. Thanks for writing your thoughts down here!

Sassy Molassy said...

Just found your blog via prin via single + cats = sad. I loved this post. I'm a marathoner and someday perhaps a triathlete...not sure about IronMan. But I can understand the let down after training for so long. I guess that's why I schedule another race before I've even finished the next one.

Congrats on the finish!

Tri-Angle said...

That girl? She's always there. She's always been there. You are an IRONMAN Megan. I'm proud to know you.

Go Mom Go said...

You hit it on the head. I have tears rolling down my face right now know that I won't be doing Ironman this year. I had such a wonderful time during my whole day and looking at your pictures I can see that you did too!

Seriously, November 2010 -- Florida??? I was looking at Arizona, but I can do Florida...what do you think? That will be the first year I will be able to do another one. So, I am already looking forward to it. Crazy I know...

Congratulations Megan. You have accomplished so much and I hope that the blues don't get you too bad.

Great job!

Alili said...

What a beautiful post. Congrats:)

Anonymous said...

You almost make me want to train. My IRONMAN is becoming a Yogi, you're my inspiration. - ellie

Danni said...

Pure inspiration.
Go girl go!

Prin said...

You so rock, Megan. :) What a great post.

Maybe Ironman is like virginity, you know, once you've torn that thingy in the end, you just want more. :D

Ew, I know.

I'd prolly keep the bracelet on until it didn't look like a bracelet anymore.

I'm so proud of you, you know? I wish I could have found your blog earlier in the year, right when you started, but I'm glad I found it anyway and I'm glad I got to "be there". :)


Brent Buckner said...

Glad you got something big out of it all.

Melissa said...

I just ran across your blog - the typical hopping from one to another. I enjoyed reading your post-IMAZ post. I was planning on being there to register for IMAZ 09 - my first, but was bumped form my flight. Hopefully next year I will be there - where you are now. Earnng the M-dot.
Congratulations to you. Wear that bracelet proud. no need to take it off! it goes with every outfit!
so - what's next?!

Anonymous said...

Awesome recap Megan - I haven't followed your blog from the get go, but I did go back and read about last year. You are amazing! I found it hard to let go of 12 months of hard work training for Ironman - 2 years must be really tough.

You put into words exactly how I felt too - it is the most amazing experience of my life to do Ironman - I have had kids, and that was amazing too, but it wasn't the intense personal satisfaction that crossing an Ironman finish line was. It can't be replaced by any other thing in your life.

It is your own achievement, your own mental challenges, and your own tough spirit that got you there. Congratulations again - I am looking forward to following you to your next adventure!

someday tri said...

Really? That's all you'll post about IM? What self control! I'd never get tired of reading about it, and won't mind a bit if you have to slip it in every paragraph for the next few months.

You know... "so, I stopped at the store, and then drove home, and I'm an IRONMAN, and then I had Thai for dinner." That sort of thing seems perfectly warranted.

"Great job" seems a little weak, but I mean it sincerely.



Iron Girl Nyhus said...

Congratulations on being crowned "IRONMAN" Whooohoo!!!

Tea said...

I didn't think you could top the "race report", but this post was just perfect.

I can only hope to be as strong focused as you were.

KrissyGo! said...

"But right now, as I sit in bed, three days removed from the event, I can say that Sunday was undoubtedly the best day of my life."

Oh man. I read those words and just burst into tears.