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.