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Donnerstag, 18. Juni 2015

Ironman Races: There IS no Last Place!

This ”Iron-mom” write a delicious material which I have to post on my own blog too - please refer to this blog of this lady: http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual.asp?blog_id=5480716

One Step At A Time....

I've had quite the journey over the last few years from the couch to finishing my first Ironman. Along the way I've learned alot about myself and about endurance training in general (as well as a whole lot of unpleasant things about saddle sores, chafing, various ways in which the body can give out on you...none of which I'll share here...:))

I was never athletic growing up - not at all. Never joined teams, never ran for pleasure, not much of a biker - nothing. It took me almost fourty years to discover that there is a bad-ass, stubborn, strong, relentless, tough athlete inside of me. She's not skinny. She's not fast. But she can accomplish things that would take your breath away.

Five years ago I struggled to finish a 5K and if at that time someone had told me that I could run a marathon, let alone run a marathon after swimming 4KM and biking 180KM, I probably would have died laughing. It was small steps (and a few audacious leaps) that let me to Ironman. Doing a terrible 5K where I had to walk huge sections of it turned into wanting a do-over and running a slightly better 5K, that led to a 10K and the next year a half-marathon. Fast-forward to three years ago and some friends and I went down to Lake Placid to volunteer at the Ironman. As I stood about 200 metres from the finish line watching the last few dozen athletes drag themselves to their moment of glory before the midnight cut-off I realized that some of them looked like me. They weren't freaks of nature with 8% body fat (most of those people had finished hours before). I had a lump in my throat and goosebumps on my arms. The first seed was planted - I could never do a full Ironman - but maybe a half?

So, I signed up for a sprint triathlon and an olympic distance triathlon that Summer as well as a half-Ironman the following summer. In training for those events I discovered that I was a decent swimmer and a very strong cyclist. The running still sucked, but at least it wasn't the only thing I was doing. When I completed that half-Ironman last year I was completely exhausted, but somewhere in my brain I knew that if I trained hard enough I could do a full one.

It all came together one step at a time. Achieving one goal led to the next. One long training session led to another. Distances built. Speeds increased (sometimes). And suddenly the unimaginable became attainable.

My darkest moments on the Ironman course were when I would let me mind get ahead of me and think..."I've already been at this for 6 hours and I'm not even half done!!!! I still have 2 hours on the bike and then I need to run a freaking Marathon!" When those thoughts came I would settle in and follow the advice that a friend who has done multiple Ironmans gave to me. Just get to the next aid station. Don't think beyond that.

In weight loss I think there is a lesson there. Don't think about the 50lbs that you have to lose - just get to the end of the meal, to the end of the day, to the end of the week. Bit by bit you will get there.

One of the things that I love most about Ironman is how everyone who finishes is celebrated. In fact, the very last finishers are the rockstars of the event. For the last hour before the midnight deadline, many of those who finished earlier in the day come back, wearing their medals and their compressions socks, to help cheer in the last few athletes. Rock music blares as the announcer whips the crowd into a frenzy watching and waiting for the final finisher, willing them to get in on time. In many races, the first place finishers return to place medals around the necks of the last finishers. It is an event that truly celebrates perseverance.

This got me to thinking about a few things that I've learned over the past few years about coming in "last". One that I love was passed along to me by a friend who is a competitive cross-country ski racer. He said that when his ski team finished last in an event they would say that they "outlasted the competition". What a great way to look at it. For those of us who are slower athletes - why is it that we beat ourselves up about not being the fastest athletes in events? Why not celebrate the fact that long after the faster athletes are having a coffee and an ice bath we are still out there, slugging away and Never. Giving. Up.

My husband, who is one of those natural runners who can run a marathon in under 4 hours, ran alongside me for my first marathon last fall. I went in to the marathon with shin splints and came out of it with a stress fracture. Finishing meant being out there for almost six hours (5:45 to be exact) and by the end of the run the most painful thing on my body was my face (from grimacing so hard for so long). Afterwards, my husband said that he had new respect for "slow" runners because he'd never had a more painful marathon - the longer you are out there, the more of a pounding your body takes and the longer you have to manage your discomfort (or pain). Marathon running does not need to be as ugly as my first experience (my Ironman marathon went much, much better), but it did remind me that athletes who "run long" test themselves in a way that athletes who "run fast" never have to. We're not speedy, but man, are we ever tough!

Finally, one of my favourite sayings (I think I saw this one on Facebook) is: "Dead Last beats Did Not Finish beats Did Not Start" to the end of that I'd add "beats Did Not Register". 
I see so many people who don't sign up for events because they are afraid that that they won't do well. To that I say: "who cares? Register anyways!" 
Whether its your first 5K, graduating to a 10K, taking on a half-marathon or even taking on the full 26.2 miles, go ahead and take the plunge. Knowing that you have a goal race, you'll be forced to google a training plan. If you don't have time to do everything on the plan, don't panic, you can adapt. Trust me, there will be lots of people like me right next to you: with kids and jobs and lives to juggle, who haven't done every mile of the perfect training plan. If you get to the start line you're already winning! Because you've beat everyone at home on the couch. Start moving, one foot in front of the other and guess what, I bet that you'll pass at least one person along the way. And if you don't, well, you'll just keep moving towards the finish line. That's right, you will finish. And you can't finish last because you've already beat everyone who didn't sign up. And everyone who signed up but didn't show up. And everyone who quit along the way. YOU ARE A FINISHER of an ironman distance, 226 km in only 15 or 16 or 17 hours!!!

So, is there a weight-loss lesson in all of this? I think there is. For everyone out there beating yourselves up because the weight isn't coming off at lightning speed (damn you Biggest Loser, why can't we all lose 10lbs in a week in the real world?) or because you started a plan and had some hiccups and detours along the way it doesn't matter how long it takes you to get to the finish line. You are strong because you keep trying. You have learned more about perseverance than those lucky folks who don't struggle to lose weight. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other - you will get there and you will know so much more about yourself when you do.

 One of the really cool parts of the Ironman for me was having Mike Reilly doing the announcing. Reilly has been the "Voice of Ironnman" for the past 25 years, announcing the World Championships in Kona every year as well as over one hundred other Ironman races. As one article on Reilly said to some athletes, hearing Reilly say those four, iconic words is just about as important as making it to the finish line. When his voice booms "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!" over that microphone, lifelong dreams are realized.

I know that as I did my training, imagining that moment was incredibly motivating and emotional for me. And when it actually happened, it was magical - I never imagined that I would cross to the sounds of I come from a Land Down Under by Men At Work (maybe I'll need to add that one to my running mix) but having Reilly say those words and then quickly mention that I'm a mother of four was a moment that I'll probably replay in my mind for the rest of my life.

So, having Reilly make an appearance at the Athlete's Banquet a couple of days before the race was a huge treat. I looked forward to hearing words of wisdom from this man who had been at the finish line to see tens of thousands of athletes complete their journeys. I'm sure that over the past quarter-decade he has seen it all. When he spoke, this is the advice that Reilly gave. 
During the race a lot of things will happen that you can't control. But there is one thing that you can control. Your attitude. That's it. Seriously? Have a good attitude? I was left feeling a little let down that his advice was so basic. Where was the magic secret to finishing the Ironman?

As it turns out, that WAS the magic secret. In the weeks leading up to the race I have to admit that I was somewhere between scared and terrified depending on the day. Sure I had done a lot of training, but was it enough? I could go through a long list of things that I could have, maybe should have done better. More running. Longer bike rides. More hills. Spinning over the winter. More swimming. More, more, more.

But on race day, the reality was that I had to work with whatever level of fitness and proficiency that I had built. Instead of focusing on all the things I could have done better, I chose to focus on what I had done well. Training on the actual bike course. Increasing my comfort level swimming in open water. Improving my running technique. And most importantly, coming in to the race un-injured and feeling physically well. And I thought about everything that I had learned from endurance races over the past few years. How to eat during the race. How to pace myself. How to come up with a race plan and then adapt it to changing conditions.

During the race itself I tried to keep the positive attitude going. I smiled whenever I could. I thanked every volunteer and cheering spectator I saw (and learned that the more energy you give out, the more you get back). When the going got rough I concentrated on what was not hurting (my feet are killing me, but wow, my knees are really holding up well!) And I tried to think about how far I had come instead of how far I still had to go. The absolute best feeling of the day was half-way through the marathon when I knew that I had only 21KM left to go and 5 hours left before the midnight cut-off. I knew that as long as I kept putting one foot in front of the other I would be an IRONMAN! From that point onward it felt like a bit of a party the sun had gone down, the volunteers were still pumped up and all that was left was to get to the finish line and hear Reilly say those words.

So what is the weight-loss lesson here? There are many, many things in life you can't control. But you can control your attitude. You can choose to focus on what you are doing right (I'm drinking more water, I'm eating way more vegetables) instead of on what you could have done better (damn you Pumpkin Spice Lattes!). You can focus on what is feeling good instead of what is hurting. You can celebrate how far you've come instead of dreading how far you still have to go. You can give positive energy to others and others will send it right back at you. None of us are perfect; we can all be doing things better or doing more, more, more .... so let's stop beating up on ourselves and try to enjoy this journey. It sounds simple, but it's true: attitude is everything!

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