10/13/15

IM Kona ''15 - reflections


After crossing 10 Ironman finish lines, I have learned something from each one of them.
On Saturday, I learned how strong my mind can be even when my body does not cooperate.
I also reminded myself why Kona is the sight of the Ironman World Championship - racing here is a  a humbling experience to race with the best athletes in the world on a very challenging race course.
IM Kona can crush dreams or can make dreams come true. 

Over the past 9 years, I have had great races where I could do what I love to do on race day -  race with only my mind as my only limiter on race day and perform with a healthy and strong body.
But then I've had races where my body didn't perform well.
No matter the race, I have found myself crossing the finish line and wanting to do better. 
There was always a next time as I have never given up even when races didn't go as planned. 

I've been in this position before. Actually, the situation is so similar that it's almost scary. 

Back in 2010 I qualified for the 2011 Ironman World Championship.
Just last year, I qualified for the Ironman World Championship. 

In 2010 and 2014, I qualified for the 2011 and 2015 IM World Championship at the same race - Ironman Wisconsin. 

In 2010 and 2011 - Karel watched me race in Wisconsin and Kona.
In 2014 and 2015 - Karel raced with me in Wisconsin and Kona.
In 2011, I went into Kona with a very healthy body and mind, felt confident in my fitness. But, the race didn't go as planned. I struggled on the run and found myself wanting to quit early on Ali'i drive. It was a very tough day.
It was a challenge to say the least but I managed to cross my 2nd IM Kona finish line. 

Fast forward 3 years later and I found myself in the same situation. Certainly, I didn't think about it on a race day as I was in a world of hurt on the run and my only focus was on finishing.
With almost exactly the same scenario but nothing significant to blame (not nutrition, previous training or race day pacing) - I just felt off all day in Kona.
 

I never let that feeling get to me as I knew my day was not coming together as I liked after the swim and after the bike. Even when I set foot on the run, my body didn't feel good but I didn't let that get to me. 

Now that I have had a few days to reflect, recover and think about my 4th Ironman World Championship finish, I can confidently say that I would not have done anything differently with my training leading up to the race or how I raced this race. I honestly did the best I could and funny enough, I felt really strong (endurance wise) on the swim and the bike but my times were not what I had anticipated. I didn't have any significant low moments on the swim or the bike (well - the last 32 miles of headwind on the bike was a big mental battle) and even while feeling off on the run, I was still able to run from aid station to aid station with a fairly relative good pace in the very hot temps.
I wasn't out to chase times but then again, how I perceived the effort didn't match with how I perceived my times. 

I find great joy in racing, especially at the longer distances, but it is a challenge to be "on" for 10+ hours. Training is fun and I feel that as athletes, we often take it for granted how tough it is on race day compared to training. 
In training, we check off workouts. We can stop, we can modify, we can adjust. Athletes and coaches often say that race day is the "easiest" training day because of the volunteers, aid stations, spectators and the fact that you get to race with a tapered body and months of training behind you but ask any competitive endurance athlete and he/she will tell you how mentally and physically exhausting it is to "race" in an endurance event.

On Ironman race day, the performance counts. For 140.6 miles, you are faced with challenges to overcome and many mind/body arguments.  There are no guarantees for race day. 
After months and months of training, you have only one day to perform at your best. Even if we feel great on race day or the weather is ideal for a "fast" race, race day is never easy. 

I never want to make excuses for a race. I will not put blame on outside variables or myself. I could not have done anything different on or before race day for a different outcome. Over the course of 140.6 miles in Kona, I did what I could, on a challenging day, on a very challenging course. I owe a big thank you to my body that I finished but I now carry a slight ache in my heart that it wasn't my day.

But as I said before, I've been in this position before. And with being presented with this scenario just a few years ago, I know my choices. 

Give up or give it another try.

Right now, I will give up on getting back to Kona for a while but I don't want to give up on triathlon racing. 

I have never given up on race day in my 10 Ironman races as I have finished every Ironman that I have started.
I won't let one Ironman race to define me as an athlete. It wasn't about my IM Kona finish time but the hardest take-away for me is that my body won over my mind.

I will not forget the great season that I have had this year as well as my many accomplishments, wins, PR's and Kona qualifications over the past three years.
I will not give up on wanting to better myself on race day.

Last time I found myself in this position in 2011, I had my best season the following year. I was training and racing faster than ever all thanks to a mental and physical break from the Ironman distance. I was able to race more and I worked on many weaknesses. After 2012, despite a hiatus from running due to another hip/back injury, I have done some amazing things with my body over the past 3 years including 5 Ironman finishes (and 2 IM World Championship finishes, a 10:17 IM PR at IM Austria with a 3:39 IM run), winning the amateur female title at 3 half IM events and training/racing injury free. 

I'm disappointed in how the race went on Saturday but I am proud that I never gave up.
When you are walking with several miles to go and it is impossible to run, a bicycle, car or moped looks very inviting. I'd be lying if the thought didn't cross my mind that there was an "easier" way to get to the finish area - however, that way would mean not crossing the finish line and not receiving a finisher medal. 

And even though things were not going my way throughout the day, I never convinced myself during the race that I was having a bad day. It was only when I could no longer race with my mind in the last 7 miles of the run, that I felt defeated.

As I leave the island today knowing that on race day, I could not have done anything different for a different result, I will eventually find closure in my IM Kona performance.
And with a few Campy kisses tomorrow and the excitement for a well needed off-season, I will move on knowing that this is not my life but my lifestyle.
Life is still awesome and I still love triathlon racing.
I love the highs, the lows and everything in between and the many life lessons that I learn with racing long distance triathlons.

I am incredibly grateful to my body for allowing me to compete in this extreme endurance triathlon sport, I feel so lucky for all that I have accomplished in the past and I love being able to share this awesome lifestyle with Karel.

Thank you for your support and for letting me be honest and candid with my racing experiences.
My IM Kona race recaps will be coming soon....