Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sweet Emotion -- Michelle's First Half Ironman

-- By Michelle 

Like any big event, I’ve been looking forward to this race for several months.  This was my first trip to Oceanside and my first 70.3 distance race.  Typically, I spend hours scouring the event website, reading reviews, and checking out the course maps and elevation charts.  This time, I decided that wasn’t a good idea because each time I sat down to process what I’d gotten myself into, my stomach reminded me that I was crazy and under prepared.  Did I mention that sharks live in the ocean? So I did the next best thing…. stuck my head in the sand, entered a huge state of denial, and followed my fabulous friends around as they trained.

The day of the race arrived and we made it through all of the pre-race jitters.  I was waiting with my age group as we watched the pros take off.  They were in and out of the water before our wave even started.  It was inspiring to watch them run into transition.  The water “appeared” calm and I felt nervous but ready as we approached the boat ramp.

We gently swam to the starting line and I knew in just a few minutes I would lose my “security blanket” (a.k.a. Jacque).  Then it would be up to me.  As the air horn rang out, I felt good and had plenty of room to swim.  But then the next wave caught me and the water felt much more crowded.  It seemed I just kept going and going and going.  It felt like I spent more time vertical trying to see the next buoy than I did horizontal swimming away.

The water was choppy and it felt like the swells were enormous; it’s all much worse when you are out there.  Was this swim ever going to end?  Finally, I spotted the turn around buoy and headed straight for it.  Somebody passed right along side me and I became a little too acquainted with their heel.  Bam!  A heal to my mouth.  Ouch!  Great, now I was in the ocean with a bleeding mouth.  If I could taste the blood in my mouth then surely the sharks could smell it! Did I mention that they can smell a drop of blood within a mile?!  I started to think about the rest of the day and the reality of it all hit me in my weakest moment out in the middle of the ocean, bleeding!  I started to question my race strategy of “denial”. By the time I got out of the water, I wanted to sit down on my transition mat and cry.  I didn’t want to quit, I just wanted to cry.   I was mentally unprepared and I knew it.  Denial is NOT a good race day strategy!

It took me until about mile 15 on the bike to realize that I did want to be out there and that I was having a good time.   I finally settled in and then around mile 23 my husband Jared caught and passed me.   We had a quick chat and he was off.  I thought I had it rough…he had just gotten stung by a bee on his head!  Then the hills and wind started.  The second half of the course was much tougher.  It felt like we climbed forever, took a quick break and then climbed some more.  Lorie’s words kept echoing in my mind.  “Don’t lose your heart rate or you’ll lose your run.”

I did a good job at keeping my heart rate in check but was feeling frustrated as I just kept getting slower.  One by one I ticked off each of the last 15 miles on the bike.   I’d done a lot of firsts—many of which should have happened before race day but didn’t:  Going uphill at 4.6 mph and not tipping over.  Did you even know that was possible?  Not me!  I actually picked up a banana and a water bottle at the same time going though an aid station…and didn’t crash!  Went 35 mph downhill.  Slow to some people but for me…. speedy.

Somewhere in those last 15 miles something great happened.  I finally gave myself permission to do my best.  It sounds cliche but really I was finally able to let go of where I was in comparison to others and just enjoy the accomplishment of being out on the course surrounded by others claiming their own personal victories.  It was an empowering feeling as I slowly headed into the wind and towards transition.   As I approached the bike dismount, I got choked up and just reveled the fact that I was done with the unknown.  I walked through transition and soaked in the atmosphere around me.

I felt relief as my legs actually worked and the run began.  Two loops, lots of familiar and friendly faces, and the BEST cheering support squad ever!!  I ran the first loop comfortable and felt great.  The second loop I tried to pick up the pace a little and then finally at the 10 mile mark focused my energy and ran hard.  I like to finish a race knowing I left it all on the course and this time I did.  Running along the beach with cool temps and cloud cover, watching challenged athletes do amazing things, being on the course with friends, surrounded by a cheering section that loves you and carries you to the finish line.  Does it get any better than that?  It’s a hard feeling to beat. 

1 comment:

  1. Love stories like these of someone achieving more than they thought they were able. We will never know who we are unless we push ourselves beyond our known boundaries. Anyways, i'm blubbering, nice story...


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