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Ironman World Championships: My gut-busting demise


Upon returning home from Whistler, British Columbia, I wasted no time creating opportunity to prepare for my next race, the Ironman world championships. You don't spend one thousand dollars on a race and not give yourself the benefit of trying to succeed. Ultimately, I have grown more in the past two months of preparation, and finally, my appearance and completion of what now stands as the hardest race I have ever finished has left me with a new appreciation for what real character building looks like. No, I did not physically "grow a pair," even though airport security scanners still sense something suspicious in my groin that results in a courtesy pat down before I can leave TSA. Metaphorically speaking, however, I did.

In the following months of August and September, I have never substituted my tank tops, short sleeved shirts, and shorts for long sleeved shirts, sweatshirts, and sweatpants. I have never intentionally driven in my car without air conditioning. I have never volunteered my time to sit in the sauna, working my way up from twenty to fifty minute sessions. I have never asked my dad for his space heater to use, with my humidifier, in the bathroom while I pedaled my way through hours of intense heat and discomfort on my trainer. I have never told my husband he would sleep alone because he refused to sleep without air conditioning, just so I could sleep without it. Actually, that only lasted a week. The bed downstairs just got to feeling too damn uncomfortable.

Aside from severely challenging my marriage, I also experienced greater challenges staying healthy. My left knee started to retaliate and pained me to cycle and run. My right foot jumped on the same bandwagon. My head did everything possible to keep my shit together. Bryan said I had grown into a whinier person, but all I remember involved vocalizing my concerns over the injury inventory I ran through perhaps more often than necessary. Regardless, traveling to a race I felt less than prepared for resulted in more pre race mental steam than I cared to wade through. Time does not stop for such issues.

Stepping off the plane onto the tarmac in Kailua felt just as I had prepared for it to feel. I looked up into the sun faintly remembered this feeling of penetrating heat I had experienced in the sauna. Upon retrieving our rental car, we decided to drive out to Hawi because we could not access our VRBO for another hour and a half. Bryan turned his air conditioning on full blast. I, on the other hand, turned on my seat warmer after I cranked up my heater like I will this coming December. Bryan drove angry as beads of sweat rolled down his face. I enjoyed the scenery.

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I left Bryan near the ABC store, my swimskin zipped up, my swim cap and goggles ready. Tears welled up underneathe my eyelids, making the view of the man who also had sacrificed so much to ensure I succeeded in making my presence here, all the more blurry. Yet through my compromised vision, though he'll likely never admit it, I think I saw a bit of emotion expose itself when his brown eyes turned just a bit cloudy. Fifteen minutes remained until my toes would meet the water and my body would slip into the waves with the hundreds of other amateur ladies waiting to challenge themselves on this day.

Some said my experience swimming in Kona would resemble the sensation of finding myself in a washing machine. I remembered the schools of fish I had witnessed in my practice swims the days preceding the race. While we all had arms and legs to avoid, we still aspired to move together in the same direction like all the fishes did in their schools. I latched onto the hips of the ladies to my right and left, and I watched as each buoy passed by on my right. My Garmin buzzed every fifteen minutes, which allowed me to better determine my pace relative to the clock and the course. By the second turn, it seemed I swam a pace on track to break an hoUIKeyInputDownArrowur. Unfortunately, what happens at every race when the men start before the ladies, happened again. The slower age group men quickly broke up the rhythm us faster ladies had established, and my one hour goal quickly faded in my efforts to avoid men who had adopted breast stroking and the stroke better described as who-the-hell-knows-what.

Photo by Bryan Rowe
Regardless, I remained calm and controlled through the duration of the swim, and I had avoided the stings of jellyfish others had experienced days before and on the day itself. My transition to my beautiful BMC Timemachine felt relatively uneventful, which I felt grateful for given the drama it had put me through the week prior. A stripped screw to anchor my brake compartment meant I relied on the skilled hands and time of a BMC dealer in Waimea to fix it with parts that BMC had to ship overnight so my bike could be race-ready two days before the event. Approximately three hours of driving back and forth on three different days the week prior had left me exhausted with the commute, but grateful for the service Matt of Mountain Road Cycles provided.

On this 40th anniversary of Ironman, people have since described this day as one unlike any other day on which the Ironman world championships took place. Conditions this perfect had never graced athletes like they did on this day. This probably explains my absurdly fast bike split, but during the ride, I knew not of my pace or time. My focus remained on the alarm I had set to alert me every fifteen minutes to sip down two gulps of my concentrated F2C Glycodurance nutrition. I also counted my pedal strokes to one hundred, and upon the completion of each cycle, I drank more water. Therefore, I rode with as much concentration on my counting as I did on my hydration. I only ever lost my concentration when I either one, had to pee; two, cursed at the jackasses of guys I passed legally only to have them fail to drop back and then, pass me on the right; or three, relished the surprise downpour that fell out of the skies to cool me down on my way back to Kona.

On the tail-end of the bike ride, I felt invincible. My riding felt effortless when the wind blew at my back. Upon turning the corner into transition, my feet out of my shoes in preparation for my dismount, I felt my feet touch the carpet. Then, my backside did, too. Apparently, I did not stand a chance on slippery carpet when I rode in too hot. I thanked the volunteer who grabbed my bike as I picked myself up and ran around the pier to grab my run bag. I wish I could say I had planned it that way, but I had not.

Why must all good things come to an end? Or, is that simply what we say when we have not yet found the good in the outcome? All I know, having had time to study my day and how it unfolded is, my run turned into a jog that turned into a walk. My stomach turned into a basin of sludge, and nothing I did encouraged it to digest what I had consumed. With each progressive mile, I watched my stomach grow outward into my ever-tightening race kit. Despite managing to push myself to the 10-mile aid station with mental games and false promises, I felt my run slow to a walk. Fuck it. Screw. It. All. 

Girls I had passed on Ali'i Drive passed me, along with a number of other girls I had managed to hold off while on my bike. At this point in the race, I felt confident that with a little effort, I could run/walk my sorry ass across the finish line. To walk more than run this early into the marathon would result in more sunburn and heat exposure than I had bargained for; even fifty minutes worth of time in the sauna could not make that kind of torture bearable. No amount of water, sponges, wet towels, or ice managed to coat my troubles with sugar. I could not make my sour, son-of-a-bitch situation any more pleasant, so I picked up my pace and urged my stomach to shut up.

Bryan found me just as I escaped the Energy Lab, walking. Reassuring him that how poorly I felt ultimately meant nothing serious had gone wrong did not really make me feel any better. No amount of coke, walking, drinking and wearing water seemed to ease the GI distress I had inherited. With eighteen miles down and just a blazing 10k to go, I told Bryan to meet me a little further ahead. Each aid station served as an excuse to walk, for extra time to enjoy the sensation of ice against my skin and water rushing down my torso. The backdrop of the ocean reminded me that Kona's beauty exists despite the misery I had lapsed into as urine streamed down my legs in my body's effort to ease the tension on my swollen tissues.

I crossed the finish line having accomplished at least one goal: I had managed to stay hydrated. My post race weight exceeded my pre race weight by one pound, even though I think the weight of my shoes and clothing likely contributed more to the latter weight than to the prior, considering how soaked I felt. Relieving myself three times on the ride and five times on the run, though, had not helped shed the typical five pounds the doctor looking over me in the medical tent said most athletes lose. I shook my head, which required far more effort than simply letting it hang over the cot.

While I regret how slowly I ran the marathon, Bryan reminds I have never finished an Ironman as fast as I did this one. That fact alone confirms why I find this sport so addicting. I am never satisfied, and therefore, I am always wanting to find what "better" looks like to me. Until, and if ever, I earn my spot on the starting line of Kona again, I look forward to setting out on my quest for mindful ferocity and mastery of fitness in my lifestyle of triathlon.

                                                                                                                                                    

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