Friday, January 25, 2013

MY 70.3 IRONMAN ADVENTURE : The life lessons I learned from being a loser and the benefits of being last.

“Have you lost your freakin mind?” Was the response that hubby had when he realized that I had not only signed me up but committed him to a 70.3 IronMan triathlon as well.  This response is a phrase that unfortunately I have heard all too many times throughout my lifetime.  But oh well, I guess ‘out of your freakin mind’ is a matter of perspective.  Anyway that is what I chose to tell
myself.  I’d rather be 
‘crazy’ than ‘normal’ any day.
Completing a 70.3 IronMan Distance triathlon was a bucket list item for my husband and me.  I have wanted to do an Ironman for several years now. Anytime I would start to think about attempting this goal life would get in the way.  So I kept putting it on the back burner. Then one-day fate stepped in and sent me an email.  HITS triathlon series offered a limited time discount on a sign up fee of only $75.00 for the 70.3 Ironman distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, 13.1 mile run = 70.3 mile race).  This was a great deal considering it is normally $250-350.00.  I took it as a sign from God and faster than you can say C-A-A-R-A-Z-Y I signed us up! Just like that! 
And then…
We ran. We biked. We swam. We juiced. We did yoga.
Nine months and many miles later on Jan 12, 2013 at 7:00 am we found ourselves toeing the line at the 1.2 mile swim start in Naples Florida.  Mike is 30 pounds lighter and his run, bike and swim times have greatly improved. Me, well I’m only a few pounds lighter and my times are lightning fast...well…that is…IF YOU ARE A SLOTH ON VALIUM!  But I was OK with that…Really…as long as I didn’t get LAST.
To those of you who do not know, I was fortunate enough to be born an identical twin. Yes, I began life a genetic freak. This has great advantages and disadvantages. For instance you can get by with murder and no one really knows which one it was. This drove my sister crazy, for she was ‘deemed’ the nice one and I was…well…the wild one.  I will leave alone what you can do to boyfriends.  There are many more advantages but I will save that for another blog.  Disadvantage : I was born and raised to compete. Ever since I can remember I was pitted against my twin.  It was always ‘which one is the fastest, prettier, thinner, older, younger’…on and on and on. We competed with each other in everything we did.  So now you get an idea on how I have been raised in regards to competition. Last was never a good thing. It made you invisible.
Back to the race, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous.  I did not know if I could do this.  I knew I could swim 1.2 miles, I knew that I could bike 56 miles and I knew that I could run 13.1 miles.  What I did not know is if I could put it all together and complete it all in one race.  And to top it all off, there would be no Starbuck’s rest breaks…WHAT!!! HOLY CRAP! No Chai tea latte’?! How could you do all that and not take a Starbucks latte’ break??!! What the heck?? Boy, if I were race director things would certainly be planned better!
The swim starts in the dark promptly at 7 am and I purposely stay at the back of the pack. I am not a strong swimmer so I thought I would be courteous to the other athletes and not make them swim around me, or worse yet over me. We were very lucky this day. In January you never know what the water temp or the weather is going to be like. The water was an amazing calm and clear 70 degrees.  Perfect for a sloth in a wet suit. Immediately I started having trouble breathing, wheezing even.  I couldn’t exhale. The one thing I did not anticipate was red tide, nor my reaction to red tide.  I had an asthmatic type reaction to the point of almost panic. I do not have asthma but apparently I am allergic to red tide. I had to calm my mind and talk to myself the entire swim. I had no choice but to flip over on my back and backstroke.  I really don’t know how to backstroke so I just winged it.  I wheezed and wheezed and stroked and stroked. I looked up at the sky as the sun was rising, slowly pin wheeling the colors from a dark night sky into a clear cerulean blue and I prayed. I backstroked for what seemed an eternity. I have never quit a race before and I was not about to quit now.  I had a relatively calm mind but I was confused with my body for I could not get control of my breath – I could inhale but could not get the air back out.  So all I did was keep going forward no matter how slow. I surrendered to God to carry me in.  Around me there were several swimmers calling for help.  The spotters in the water were rescuing them. How many, I do not know. I was trying to keep from being rescued myself. Near the half way mark a cute young man on a paddleboard paddled up beside me. Hence, this starts my ‘benefits of being last’ part. He starts telling me how awesome I am doing and how close I am to the finish line. He offers to loosen my wet suit, if needed, to help me breathe better. I tell him that I do not know what is happening to me.  I can’t breathe and feel as if I was having an asthma attack.  That is when he informs me that it is red tide and I was probably having a reaction. I am on my back so I cannot see the buoys to sight where I am going.  So cute young man on paddle board tells me when to turn, when to straighten and when to just swim and throwing in a few ‘you are so awesome’ comments. I can’t tell you how much his presence and encouraging words helped. I asked him if I was last and he stated no…you are rockin!! For the record, there was one man way behind me so I wasn’t completely last.
As I was making my way to the swim finish I had to run across a sand bar. I glanced down and there in the sand I saw a perfect sand dollar! A sign of good luck. Thank you God.  I said a quick prayer of gratitude. I knew it was all going to be OK.  I exited the water slightly embarrassed but relieved that I had made it out.  I was saluted with high fives from the race director – I make a mental note to self to talk to him about that Starbucks aid station. LOL!  The closer I got to the transition area the better I could breathe and within no time my breath returned to normal.  Now for the next ‘benefit of being last’.  At the transition area I was greeted with not just one personal male stripper, but two personal male strippers!!  OK you dirty birdies, get your mind out of the gutters. I’m at a triathlon not a strip club! A stripper is someone who helps take off your wetsuit. Had I been with the pack I would have had to wait in line to get stripped. Since I was the back of the pack they had no one else to strip so I got more attention!! Yay for me. As fast as I could say ‘Yippee!!’ they had my wet suit off.  I was quit impressed and a bit dazed…Snicker.
Next up 56 mile bike ride.  About 6 miles into it I had a motorcycle police officer pull up behind me.  He said he was going to follow me. I asked why.
“Because you are last.” He said. 
“What happened to the guy behind me in the swim?” I asked. 
“He dropped out.” 
“Awww shit!”  I yelled. My temper flared. “I hate being last!” I did not want this guy following me!   With him following me everyone would know that I was last!! Shit, shit, double shit!! I thought (I realize that some of my language is not appropriate. But I am writing what happened.  And unfortunately, with my negative frame of mind, this is what I said).  I was completely humiliated.  I’m pissed and discouraged and I am battling a tough head wind. My legs are already burning from running in my wet suit in the water. So I start ‘stinkin thinkin’ as my Uncle Dick Broy always said.  It means that all I was thinking was how bad things were and my mind became my biggest battle/enemy at this point.  ‘I can’t be last! I have to beat someone! How am I ever going to live with being last?  I am so embarrassed!  Oh my legs are burning, I can’t handle this horrible head wind, My back is killing me, I can’t feel my crotch, I have 50 more freakin miles to go of this crap! What the hell was I thinking?!  I am crazy!!’ And on and on it went. I battled my mind’s thoughts as the lean muscled, beautiful pro athletes doing the 140.6 distance tri who has now completed their 2.2 mile swim overtake me on mean looking $15,000.00 tri bikes.  They sped by me like I was standing still.  And here is what they said as they whizzed by this old lady with the motorcycle following her signifying last place.  “Awesome job!”  “You are rockin this race!”  “Keep going you are amazing!”  Highly pissed, I thought to myself  ‘are they thinking I’m a 100 yr old lil ol lady and I’m doing something miraculous?  What the hell?’ After reconsidering my offense I realized that their words were meant to be true encouragement.  Most runners and triathletes are awesome and inspirational people.   Still, I felt deflated and humiliated.  I pedaled and pedaled. 
Then through all the negativity in my mind, the thought immerged that I am here to complete a bucket list.  A ‘DNF’ (did not finish) is not an option.  The pain I am experiencing is temporary, the regret if I did not finish would be forever.  So I became friends with my personal escort officer on the motorcycle riding behind me. I gradually grew accustomed to the gentle hum of his motor. I road what seemed forever and never saw another cyclist.  Just me and the officer on a Sunday ride in the middle of nowhere. ‘Where did everyone go??’ I kept thinking. Finally I spotted someone and I overtook him. Yes!! I annihilated him! (in my mind) I am high, pumped! The wind is now at my back.  I am elated! No longer last! Yipee, yay!! I am celebrating.  The police officer pulled up beside me and said, “Good luck young lady (yes, he actually called me ‘young’ lady), You are doing awesome. I have to hang behind him, he is now last.”  And just like that, he was gone.  
I was alone. 
The sound of crickets.
Then suddenly I realized the benefit of having my last place escort. The bike course was an open course, meaning that there were lots of cars on the road and I went through very busy intersections.  That is when I noticed that the cars now drove too close to me, cut me off and it became down right nerve racking riding in all the traffic.  But alas, it was probably no longer than ten minutes and my escort was back. He said that the guy dropped out of the race and now I was back in last place.  My ego flared again as I told him,  “I’m really glad your back but it really SUCKS to be last!”
He laughed. 
This scenario of overtaking another biker and losing my escort took place three more times to the very end of the bike portion of the race.  But no matter how many cyclists I passed they would drop out so it was still me whom the officer rode to the bike finish line with.  The benefit of having him with me most of the race was that he kept me safe. I had no idea how safe I felt until he was gone. I rode in the bike lane and he rode in the car lane forcing the cars to go into the far left lane around me.  When crossing bridges where the bike lane ended, he would tell me when to move over, I never had to look back to check for cars.  Riding out on that 56 mile course was very lonely (I trained with hubby and was not accustomed to riding so long by myself).  Being alone was something I became acutely aware of when my last place escort dropped back with the riders I would pass. So there, that is a great perk of being last on the bike!  When we finished, he wished me luck and off I went into transition. It was there that I got my biggest reward.  My Dad and twin sister were cheering me on at the bike finish!!  I had not seen them in over a year!  I thought to myself, ‘If my twin were in this triathlon I would not be last!’ Anyway, that is what I told myself.
With a 13.1 mile run ahead of me it was no encouragement to hear someone crossing the finish line before I even got started. Which is what happened.   So, I took my noodle bike legs and tried to hobble out of transition onto the run. It was now a humid 87 degrees. Surprisingly, I was very clear headed.  My body was tired but I felt good. The pain I was experiencing was normal fatigue, a bit of lactic acid build up from what I was doing, but I was in no ‘real’ pain.  So off I went.  I met Mike around mile marker 4.5.  He was on his loop back, around mile marker 9 for him.  He was struggling from the heat, but overall, he was doing well.  We kissed and told each other that we were about to become ironmen.  Off he went as I watched him head towards the finish line.  At the halfway turnaround point came my next perk at being last (although I have to say that by now I have passed people and am no longer in last place). Two men worked the turn around aid station that marked the halfway point of the run. I am assuming that they were bored to tears for they eagerly jumped up and decided to ice me down with their wonderful sponges while making sure that I had plenty of fluids and fresh yummy fruit to enjoy during my refreshing ice bath. I felt like Cleopatra. Now I know that some of you once again are thinking…hmmm…I get two male strippers after the swim and now two men who give me an ice bath all while serving me fruit and drinks.  But I can assure you everyone was perfectly appropriate and they would have behaved the same way no matter who showed up. It was my timing that got me the attention.  I am so very appreciative of their services!! So off I go to the finish line thinking about how I’m going to pose for my finish line photo.  Now be honest! Any of you who have crossed the finish line can’t tell me that you didn’t think about your pose as you cross the finish line! Heck, isn’t that what it is all about? The finish line photo! Proof that you conquered and survived!
 So here I am. The moment arrives and the finish line is in site.  I rehearsed in my head a beautiful gazelle like leap across the line (ok, in my mind I was a gazelle, in reality I was still a sloth. But let me dream, OK!?)  I look around…prepared to leap.  What the heck?  No photographer!  He must have taken a break.  Probably in the crapper for having to wait so long! Oh well, I have no professional finish line photo.  But I did get a funny photo from my sister who took a pic of me from behind, running to the finish line.  Following me was a pro athlete who was competing in the full 140.6 mile distance ironman and was in first place.  I do not know how he ascended on me so quickly for I had turned around at the last tenth of a mile to make sure that those whom I had passed were not gaining on me.  There was no one within sight!  This athlete had missed his turn around at the 13 mile mark and followed me to the finish line! In the photo it appears that I am ahead of him. Hahaha! Poor guy. He crossed the finish line, so in “the zone” that he did not even know he had crossed it and became very confused when I stopped.  The race director realized what had happened and yelled at him to go back he missed his turn around (about 3 blocks back).  The athlete yelled, “But I was following her!” and pointed at me.  My dad and sister thought that was so funny. I later looked back at the full ironman results and this athlete did go ahead and finish first so this incident did not mess him up too bad. It did make for a great pic though for it appears that I am outrunning this great looking athlete!! Hahaha! So it wasn’t’ the great finish line photo that I had imagined, but it does make for a good laugh or two. And that trumps my beautiful gazelle like leap through the air anytime. That perfect finish line photo will have to remain forever in my mind. LOL! 
So to quickly recap. There were 218 athletes that started the race. Of those 218, only 138 people finished the race. So you can say that I really wasn’t in last place, I just refused to quit!  Anyway, that is what I will tell myself.  All the dropouts would explain why I kept asking myself throughout the race ‘where did all the people go?’
Mike finished 2nd in his category. I am so proud of him. I had a feeling he would do very well.   He missed his awards ceremony.  Hubby can never resist a massage and when he saw a sign after he crossed the finish line saying ‘free massage’, well that’s all she wrote for the fat lady had sung. Leave it to hubby to give up his award ceremony for a massage.   Fortunately, they are sending his award in the mail.
I completed the race with well over an hour before the cut off time. I am cool with that.  
I have had respiratory issues ever since the swim in the red tide.  Lot’s of sinus, and coughing, and not feeling well.  But the great part is that I spent the rest of the week celebrating with hubby, my twin sister and dad. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me that they came all the way from Missouri to see me cross the finish line. I am so blessed. It has been an awesome week! 
With every bucket list goal I have completed I discover more about myself and learn some very important life lessons.  With this ironman goal I was surprised to learn that with my feelings of being humiliated with last place there was still a part of me that was concerned with what ‘society’ or people might think.  Our society places importance of being first and tends to reduce the fact that just completing a goal is a feat all in itself.  We focus on how well we did compared to everyone else. I believed that I no longer cared about what anyone else thought about me. However, I realized during the race that the struggles I went through and the thoughts that rose up revealed that I still needed validation from others. I was surprised by this revelation.  By completing this ironman I believe I have come to terms with ‘what society or other people might think’ and now I believe that I can truly say I am free of this mindset.   I learned that despite obstacles (imposed and self imposed) I do not give up. When times got tough I learned to just flip over on my back, look up to the clear blue sky, surrender and pray and just keep moving forward.  I know for certain that I can never do anything all on my own. Nor should I even try. This reconfirmed and strengthened my belief that help is always within.  All I have to do is tap into our almighty God and no matter how hard things get He will always carry me. I consistently need to remember to let go of ego and surrender to this power.  I learned that once again, I am a finisher.  I learned that it takes courage to accept certain positions such as last place, swallow humiliation, let go of ego and just accept that things are the way they are and be ok with that.  I learned to find the positive in a situation that wasn’t working out like I had planned. I learned that last is not something to ever be ashamed of.  And most importantly I re-learned the lesson that we truly never just ‘arrive’ at a particular destination and that as long as I live there will always be another finish line to cross.  Life is a never-ending adventure and I must never forget to enjoy the journey. 
As for now, Mike and I have a check mark on a our 70.3 Ironman bucket list goal and we can officially say...
WE ARE IRONMEN!!!
Let the next adventure and lessons begin!
Namaste’