Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Numero Cinco. Definitely Not A Magic Number.

Well, my fifth Ironman is in the books.

I competed in Lake Placid in 2009, 2011, and 2012.
I competed in Coeur D'Alene in 2010, and Kona in 2011.

So, in short, I've competed at the IM distance five times in the last three years.

My results at Ironman have been quite consistent. I have never crushed a race at the IM distance. I have also never bombed one. I have raced between 11:13 and 12:02--in terms of time--for all five. My first IM in LP I finished in 11:45. My fastest IM was CDA, which I finished in 11:13. My slowest IM finish occurred yesterday, in my fifth IM, which I completed in 12:02.

I'm really disappointed but, honestly, not that surprised.

I have never put more time into my training than I did this spring. I went against Kurt's wishes every week, completing more in terms of volume than I ever have before. I wouldn't listen to reason. I knew I needed more – and I was going to do more.

Unfortunately, and perhaps as a result of adding this volume, I never felt praticularly good or strong in my training this spring, except in the swim. My swim seems to respond well to greater volume. Perhaps under the right circumstances, my bike and run would respond to greater volume, too. But they didn't this time. Instead, the greater, unprescribed-by-coach volume spun me into a physical and mental hole.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First let me say a little about yesterday's race. Ironically, in yesterday's race I did everything right leading up to the run. This made it all the more frustrating that my marathon was the slowest I've run in a marathon—ever.

Here is every little thing I did right:

Leading up to the race I felt pretty good. I got lots of sleep the preceeding week, I ate well, I kept the stress levels as low as I could considering I have three awesome-but-demanding kids. I went to bed by 8 the night before the race, got up at 2 to eat and again at 4, and made sure my stores were topped off in terms of hydration, calories, carbs and electrolytes before the swim start.

I got in the water early and swam to the center, front row of the line. I knew I would get crushed, but I've learned that it doesn't really matter WHERE you start the race—you're still going to get crushed—so I made the decision to go for it and deal with whatever came my way at the gun.

It was bad. But honestly, no worse than IMLP in 2009 and 2011. Mirror Lake is just too small to accommodate the number of people IM squeezes into it. I swam straight for the buoys at the gun (or tried to swim). I was pummeled with pretty much every stroke. But I stuck with it, and made the first turn RIGHT at the buoy (as opposed to taking it wide) something I've never dared to do before. By the second lap the slower-than-me swimmers had fallen back, and the speedier-than-me swimmers forward, and I was with my people. We all drafted off each other, bumping and hitting the whole way, but it was good—good because we were equals, working our way to our respective, one hour finishes.

I got out of the water at 1:01—my fastest IM swim ever. IMLP is a fast swim (when wetsuits are allowed). The whirlpool effect is huge. Even if you don't try to draft you catch the collective draft. Still, I am pleased because I was able to PR the swim without working hard at all. This was definitely my goal and I feel great about it. My approach to the swim was to not let my heart rate get high at any point. Any time I felt adrenaline shoot through me and felt the subsequent desire to gun it, I held back. I just swam. I enjoyed it (as much as you can enjoy a contact swim like that). I'm pleased about my swim. This is good, since at least it gives me one aspect of my race to feel really awesome about!

I was thrilled when I saw my time getting out of the water, but I kept my emotion in check and made sure to take the transition run easy—and then took my time in T1 getting ready for the bike. Out on the bike I stuck to my plan flawlessly. My VI was very good for both laps. My first and second laps were nearly exactly the same in terms of speed (the second lap a strong wind came up so the speed was a little slower) and my watts were identical each lap. I ate every 15 minutes, at the beep of my watch. I had a bottle of fluid every 45 minutes, like clockwork. I peed five times.
I felt strong and in control, and like I had a ton in the tank to give to the run.

My bike split was 10 minutes slower than in 2011. Part of this was the strong wind that came up this year that wasn't there last year. Part of it was by design. My goal was to have the run of my life off the bike, and so I kept my watts under what I am capable of doing—less than 70% of my FTP.

Because my bike split was so much slower than last year, I still didn't know whether I could PR the race when I got off the bike. But I knew I had done everything I could do to ensure a good run—and that includes doing much greater bike volume in my training leading up to the race.

It was not to be.

This post isn't funny or chipper. I want it to be! I'm sorry.

I could tell you how I bonded with the two men I lined up with at the swim start –and how we put our palms together 30 seconds before the gun, and said May the Force be with you! And agreed to do our best not to pummel each other.

I could write about how proud I was to ride past my coach at mile 2 on the bike, knowing that he would realize what a fast swim I had had. I wanted to raise my arm in triumph, but I didn't because I knew I should stay aero. :)

I could write about how at one point I was sandwiched between two women on the bike, and we ALL started peeing at the same time. The spray got on my sunglasses, my kit. But I had to laugh! The timing was flawless! We all started peeing at once! The poor woman behind me got it just as bad as I did.

Or I could write about how my Powerbars melted together into one mass in my Bento Box so that they looked like a gigantic chocolate peanut butter turd. But hey! I still ate that turd!

I could tell you that TWO different people (who I had never met) rode up next to me to tell me they loved my blog. That was AWESOME! (Thanks to both of you.. you know who you are!)

But mostly—I have nothing fun to say. Because I never felt... fun. I never felt happy. I felt focused—I felt determined not to fuck up my plan—but I did not feel happy.

And in the end? It was THAT that did not allow me to have a good run. I wasn't having fun—I wasn't totally invested in my race—I wasn't willing to give it all I had.

Here is the thing about IM: You have to really, really want it. You have to want to do well so badly that nothing-- not nausea, not dehydration, not shitting your pants, not even vomiting all over yourself and in front of the crowds, will prevent you from continuing to give it everything you have. If you want to win—if you want to place well--you have to train and execute flawlessly, but you also must really want it.

Because no matter how well you execute, something—or many things—will not go to plan.

I ran out of T2 feeling pretty good... certainly better than I have ever before coming into an IM run. But within a ½ mile the nausea came up. And by mile 2.5 I puked for the first time. It was quick and dirty—and I kept running right after I finished.
But it was over for me right then. I simply did not have the heart or the will to get through another IM marathon throwing up. I wasn't willing to go there. I did not care enough. In fact, in the moment when I started running again--I did not care at all.

It didn't help that I knew that I must have been 8th or 9th AG coming off the bike. SO many women in my AG had passed me on the bike—way more than I had had thought would, even given my conservative wattage. It turns out I was actually 7th coming out of T2, but it didn't matter, because in my mind I was already slightly convinced that I could not run my way up to a top three spot, which was what I had wanted going into the race. I wasn't gunning for Kona—and I have achieved a top five spot before at IM. I wanted more. And if I didn't get it—I simply could not muster the care that would've earned me a slightly more respectable place and time than I ended up with.

That is not good—or at least it's not good if you want to be able to tell yourself you left it all out on the course. I ran /walked a 4:44 marathon. What you need to know here is that I did not walk the whole thing. You can't actually do a 4:44 and walk the whole thing. I ran a lot--. I did not run fast. But I ran a lot. But every time a wave of serious nausea came over me I would slow to a walk. I chewed on ice, I tried to get down some chicken soup, or an electroylte tablet, or a part of a gel. I took in water at every stop, and sometimes Coke, too.

But I didn't smile and I did not fight the nausea by continuing to run. My friend Anne (from Mooseman? You may remember I drafted off of her and as a result had a kick-ass swim there... ) and I were out on the run course together for the first loop, and she kept trying to pull me along. And I would try to rally—but then I would fade again, and finally I let her go. Later we met up for a PowWow in the medical tent—both of us really dehydrated and puking. (Thanks, Anne. I was so happy to have you with me that first lap, even though I wasn't willing or able to show it. It was really the ONLY redeeming aspect of my run... having you there!)

I managed to run (as opposed to walk) by my friends, family, my atheltes on the course and my coach (except when he rode his bike with me for a longish stretch and I fell back into walking—cursing him and wishing he'd leave me alone to my walking ways.) And I waved to my friends! And I smiled! But I was unhappy. I had done everything right—and the run still had not gone right. I hadn't made mistakes. And I had still failed. And I did not care anymore.

I ran the last 1.5 miles of the race. It was not fast or pretty, but I did run it! I followed a girl in a blue Nytro kit that I realize now must have been Julie Dunkle. I tried like hell to stay with her—and then I was able to pass her toward the end. We finished close to the same time. Clearly she did not have a great day either—because she usually kicks my ass at the IM distance! (Sorry I didn't say hi, Julie! I was a little too depressed to make conversation.. and I also wasn't sure it was you...)

When I crossed the finish line I smiled for the camera. I put my hands in the air. I hadn't wanted to do well badly enough, and I didn't push through it when it got hard—but I had still finished in 12 hours, and I know that that time is respectable—no matter what fool expectations I place on myself. I won't put that time down. I am proud that even when I didn't give it all I had, I finished in that kind of a time.

Some volunteers took my arms once I crossed. After walking a bit another wave of nausea hit, and I pulled away from the volunteers to puke. It was mostly dry-heaving, but the volunteers took me to Medical anyway. I am old hat at Medical now! Since 4 of my 5 Ironman marathons have been puke/shit-fests, I have spent some quality time with the wonderful people who volunteer there. There are no better people—I'm convinced. They weighed me. With my sneakers on I was down 3 pounds, but that's not SO alarming. They put me on a cot and I just lay there until I felt I was okay and could move on. They discharged me, and on my way out I saw Anne and went over to chat with her. Within a few minutes the nasuea came back in full force and I turned blue and started shivering. Re-admitted. They gave me anti-nausea medication and some fluid. Same old.

Usually in the Med Tent I feel grateful and so happy to be done and to be taken care of—finally. But not this time. This time I just felt sad. And done. I felt really done.
I felt no joy. I had finished my fifth Ironman event—a huge accomplisment no matter what the finishing time or place. But I felt no joy.

So there is the question...
What happened to that care when I was out there on the course? Where was my joy? Where was my love of competition? My verve? My fight? I have always been able to depend on my fight...
So where had it gone?

I had a lot of time to think about this—on the bike, and on the run, and in the last 48 hours since I finished the race.
And it's simple, of course. I'm just burned-out.

I have been chasing a sub-11 hour Ironman and a Kona spot since 2009. I got the Kona spot, but never felt I had really earned it. I wanted to qualify (still want to) for Kona by finishing at the very top of my AG. And I have not yet gone sub-11.

And I have worked hard—very hard—to get those two things. And I know so many of us work so hard—and so many of us don't always get the result we have worked for and deserve. I know I am not unique or special that way. Still, I'm slightly in mourning, so you'll need to cut me some self-absorbed slack.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that in working so hard, I let my joy for the sport waver—and then blow out—until I was operating only out of habit and fear. Who am I if not a long course, endurance athelte? What would happen if I finally let up on my goals—and let go? Would I still be me? Would I still be worthy of being a respected coach and athlete?

I didn't blow up on that run yesterday. I started slow, felt sick, got sick, got slower, and gave in.
The puking? Yeah, that's me. The giving in? No—that's not.
And so, I've decided, I am not signing up or competing in another IM until that –that desire and joy and that will to not give in--comes back to me.

So, unless I miraculously find my missing MOJO in the very near future, I'm not racing at IM Cozumel this fall. I am going to rest a bit, then race either one or both or neither of the 70.3 races I have on my racing docket for the late summer. Then I am going to rest a bit more.

And then I am going to focus on getting back the joy!

I have talked with Kurt a bit—and I think it will involve doing some things I haven't really done before. I may do some short course work—some track—some strength training (in earnest) and some shorter, but hard, bike workouts. And it will involve some shorter racing—and no plans for a full IM, as I said, for awhile.

Here is the really good thing. Having my time freed up slightly from training will allow me to focus more on my coaching, and my kids and Andy, and on having a garden, which I have really, really missed. (Hard to be an excellent gardener when you are training all the time, and coaching, and parenting.) I'm excited to coach my athletes who have signed up for IMLP next year to IM greatness. I'm really excited to go to IMLP next year and cheer them on—as a coach only, and not an athelte! I'm really excited to host a training camp for my IM athletes next spring knowing that I do not need to schedule my own IM training needs around that camp. I am really excited that Ironman is still mine to have—as a coach, and someday, when I feel it again, for me, as an athlete.

I had a bunch of friends and athletes who race Sunday.
My athlete, Kelly, who has been working so hard for months and months, had a really solid race. She had an AMAZING swim, a really solid bike, and never-give-in run. I am so proud! Other TM athletes, Marisa, Tammy and Mike, also swam really well, played it smart on the bike, and gutted out the run to finish strong. (I think a lot of people had trouble on the run yesterday... not sure why... ? A little heat—and the wind on the bike did not help much. Lots of vomiting and shitting on the course and in the med tent this year!) I also had a bunch of friends who rocked it. My friend Amy, a PBM coach, got 5th AG group in 30-34 and had an awesome run that led to an IM PR. My friends Angela and Rob also had really strong race and placed well in their AGs. My Iron-virgin friends Marc, Melissa Caron and Anne (all PBMers) raced with patience and intelligence, and really excecuted flawless races and earned stellar times—a huge feat for any first timer. My friend Melissa B, who had never done a triathlon before Mooseman of this year, powered through the race—proving that hard work and determination does get you to the finish line—with time to spare.

I also had a few friends who, like me, didn't have great races. Most of us who did not have been around the IM block before. All of us who have been doing this tri thing for awhile have a slew of good and not-so-good races to our names. No matter how well you prepare, sometimes you have a great race, and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you can trace the reason why the race went sour. Sometimes you can't.

It happens.

My husband, Andy, has put up with me these last years as I tried again and again to get Kona and a sub 11 IM. I owe him the hugest love and thanks. Andy does not jump up and down when he is charged with picking up the slack when I train and race. But he always stands by me and takes that charge. I'm grateful.

I need to thank Kurt, who has put up with me these last few years, despite my constantly challenging him and messing with his plans. I know I am a difficult athlete to coach. Thank you, Kurt!

I also want to thank SO many of my athletes and friends for coming up to cheer me on this year, for texting and emailing and calling me this weekend. The support was huge and meant a lot, and I thank you all! I also want to thank Angela and Marisa for hanging with me all weekend... You guys are the best! Finally, I want to thank my athletes, who allow me to be both an athlete and a coach, and deal with it when I flake out for several days straight come race time! I also want to thank my sponsor, TriBike Transport, who has provided me with goodies and kits and free bike transport for several years running.

I haven't written a lot in the last year or so. Part of that has been my gradual move toward burn-out—and my unwillingness to write boring, tired, burned-out posts. I'm hoping that this little IM hiatus will fuel more writing verve, too. I need to get my humor back. It's gonna come—just like my verve for racing long. I know it. I just have to rest and wait.

Until then...


mtanner said...

Ironmans or no Ironmans I still love you! Find what makes you HAPPY and do it! Find the FIRE!
Thank you for being Honest with this report!!!

Velma said...

I know there are many great things ahead for you!

Michelle Simmons said...

Thanks for the honest insight! Sorry you didn't have the day you trained for... I hate that. Take your time... Your mojo will come back. :)

Ange said...

You have no idea how much I just Sobbed when I read this Mary. I get it. I said some of the Same exact words recently to someone... who I am if not....? Yup.. I get it hun.
talk to you in a few hrs.
I'm very proud of you. A

Ana-Maria RunTriLive said...

Mary, your posts always touch me! You are such an earnest and talented writer.
Reading about your run, all I could think was "of course". The lack of fight that you describe made a lot of sense to me. I think you can ask your body only so many times to run through puking and nausea (particularly when chasing a goal that is so difficult to achieve), and you certainly have taken that to the extreme last year (still remember your post and the pictures!). And, even though I have never done an ironman, I can relate to not wanting to fight when you realize your goal is out of reach. I am glad you are able to appreciate how well you executed the race and you have a plan for how to get your mojo back. So excited to see that and to read about it now that you have more time to blog. Have a super rest of the summer, Mary.

Julie Dunkle said...

holy cow.... we had such similar, disappointing days. Wish I would have left my misery and pity party and engaged you .... we could have helped each other. As with you.... refocs and no big racing this year

kT said...

Maybe humor for you is like resting HR--when it's off, you know you're overtrained, sick, etc. Thanks for writing this report, and have fun getting your groove back.

Michelle said...

Mary, I read your post twice. That is how much this resonated with me. I see myself in what you write; the multiple IM's, the constant chasing, the hope for sub 11hr, the goal of top age group. I get it. I was anxiously waiting to read your post to see what you had to say about your race. Probably because I am in the same place. I'll do my IM this year. Then it's time for an IM break. I really commend you on your ability to figure this out, wrap your head around it and make good choices for yourself. And you are truly correct...your finish time and what you have accomplished are definitely things to be proud of. Congratulations all around!

robinbb said...

Wow, amazing report. I have been reading this blog for many years and have been amazed by your accomplishments. You are an amazing athlete and have proven that even the good athletes go through burnout and may be able to benefit from stepping back. I've had way too many marathons in the past few years that were a mental challenge, nothing like yours, but I was not happy during them. Taking my step back this summer has renewed me as an athlete and I have never been happier as I am now. I am so excited to train with you this year and learn from such an amazing Ironman.

RockStarTri said...

So sorry you didn't have the race you hoped for. It seems like Placid was cruel to so many people this year.

You post resonated with me personally because I think I'm going through a funk as well. I went to the site to register for 2013 3x during the day and was amazed that each time it hadn't closed out. I realized I didn't want it enough so decided to not register.

Hope you find your mojo (and share how you did). I think for me, 2013 will be the year of the Oly. Maybe I'll think about 140.6 in 2014 but only if I have the mindset.

Trisaratops said...

So sorry to hear the day didn't go as planned. For what it's worth, I love your honesty and I love reading your blog and learning from you. And you still found a way to make me laugh, especially at the pee-spray part. ;) I still think you kick a ton of ass.

Michelle said...

Thanks for your honest writing Mary! And I'm so sorry your day didn't go as you had hoped. You will find your mojo again, just take the time to take care of yourself, enjoy coaching your athletes, love your family......it will come back:)

mjcaron said...

Thanks for sharing. It's very interesting as I soak up all that you write. And thanks for helping me along the way with our group dinners and chit chats. You were a great help and inspiration. I am sure that your moxie will return with rest. No doubt about that.

maria conley said...

I sure know how it is to chase your dream and not achieve it. I know how feels.
Please be happy my friend! You did everything in your power that day. And yeah, your mojo will be back. I am so proud of you!! Go to Maine spend some quality time with Alina. Drink wine, east and play!! Just do nothing. Heal & vegetate :) xoxo

Donna said...

You said, "No matter how well you prepare, sometimes you have a great race, and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you can trace the reason why the race went sour. Sometimes you can't."

See, I see that as the reality of racing. Isn't that why there is so much "chasing" of our goals/dreams?

I loved this entry because it resonated with me on a few levels, as "hunger" seems to be a recurring message I've been receiving lately -- in seemingly everything I read! Do you read GoSonja? Great entry about Dave Scott pegging her lack of hunger: http://gosonja.com/?p=7396 . Then another day I read something at Lifehacker, not even a cool triathlon site, http://lifehacker.com/5926267/changing-the-way-you-say-yes-can-lead-to-better-decisions , about changing how you make decisions, and immediately triathlon came to mind. It got me thinking about how, why and when we choose the races we do. I realized for me that I get so wrapped up in that feeling of accomplishment at the end (no matter how badly the day may have been), that I either need to find the next big thing to "make it right" or I have to keep moving forward. Then I thought -- "Where's the fire?" For me, I'll never be competitive like you and I'd be thrilled to have the day you had at my first Ironman. But if I burn out before, I won't have that hunger. I finally made the decision at that point that if I can't get a resounding, 100% "Hell Yes!" when committing to a race, it's not worth it. Again, loved your report because it's real. Thanks for sharing! (and sorry so long winded! LOL)

Molly said...

A tough day and a tough decision but you are right - you have to feel the fire there to do these things! Go do some short course racing and some totally different things - it will be so good for you! It'll come back in the long run and I know you'll nail it :)

Jennifer Harrison said...

Mary! You already know how I feel but you have really accomplished a lot these last few years - please remember each of those successes and be easy on yourself.
You will get your MOJO back (promise me, it waxes and wanes the longer we compete!) and you will continue to be awesome.

Meredith said...

I think as an athlete whether runner or triathlete, you always want to be the marathoner or the marathoner who does Boston or an Ironman. The reality is that even though we want these things and may be accomplish them, they're not for everyone. I so badly want to be an ironman, but after 2+ failed attempts maybe it's just not the race for me. It's taken a while and I'm not sure I'm okay with it but I am a good runner and running's my thing. Ironman will always be there if I want to try again.

Hopefully this time away will give you some clarity and maybe you'll find you like different distances better and maybe come to the realization that you don't have to be an ironman to be a kick-ass triathlete.

Kurt Perham said...

rest up Mary. enjoy the summer (see you on the cape!)....oh, AND LISTEN TO YOUR COACH!:-)

Jean, aka Mom said...

Yes, Mary
I second Kurt's suggestion/admonition. But which