Monday, September 14, 2009

What I Learned--Ironman Canada

Before the memories of Ironman Canada become hazy with time, I want to reflect on the lessons I learned. So many people told me how sorry they were that my experience was so full of suffering and pain. But I'm not sorry. I believe my 2nd Ironman was meant to be that way and because of it, I learned invaluable life lessons much more meaningful than if it had been easy. Each Ironman is a unique journey with different lessons to teach me. My Ironmans are deep spiritual quests for personal growth and inner strength. That is the essence of why I do them. Therefore, I am thankful for the hard-earned lessons learned in Ironman Canada. Yes, I suffered more than I ever have before. But I wouldn't have learned them any other way.

1. Thou Shalt be Humble
I trained more than I ever had before, and I was in the best shape of my life coming into Ironman Canada. I had worked hard to increase my speed and was proud of the level I had achieved. I had high expectations coming into this race. I was certain I could PR, given that my first Ironman had been in brutal conditions (high heat and wind). I was quickly stripped of all ego in this race as my sick stomach wracked my body with twisting pain and contortions throughout the day. I was soundly humbled by the Ironman gods. I had to throw away all preconceived notions of speed and hang onto the goal of just finishing. Ego only hurts you in an Ironman. Just get rid of it.

2. Thou Shalt have NO Expectations
As I mentioned above, I had high expectations. I dreamed of a huge PR. It was not to be. No matter how much you've planned, trained, or prepared, you just don't know what the Ironman gods have in store for you on race day. You can't control how you're going to feel or what the weather is going to be like. It's dangerous to have time goals. Unless you're fine with dropping out if you don't meet your time goals, you MUST have other goals that take precedence over time. In other words, the goal of just finishing. I would have liked to add "Just finish and have a good time in the process" but unfortunately, having a good time was not in the cards for me. But I had other rewards.

3. Thou Shalt be Tested
I had been told there would be a point on the course where I would go through an extreme low. I had experienced this before. Just not that low. I've never experienced such suffering in a race or training before. I was warned I would ask myself at some point, "Why the hell am I doing this?" I scoffed. I'm not going to ask myself that, I naively believed. I love doing this. I love Ironmans. But no one loves Ironmans when doing an Ironman. All you have to do is watch the pained grimaces and vacant stares of the athletes doing one of the races to know that an immense amount of pain and suffering is experienced in one of these races. No matter how fast you are, well-trained, or strong you are, you will ask yourself at some point, "Why am I here? Is this worth it?" And that's when you discover the stuff you are made of. How strong you are. And why you really are out there to begin with and whether or not it's worth it.

4. Thou Shalt have Compassion
I am deeply embarrassed to admit that I used to silently tease others who DNF'ed or even struggled to come in just before midnight on an Ironman. I am so sorry I ever felt that way. I was ignorant. Each athlete's Ironman journey is done alone. Even though spectators are cheering you on, they cheer from the outside, like someone peering through the glass of an aquarium. Even the athletes that run side by side on the course are alone. No one understands what you are going through but you. The struggles you experience, the pain you suffer, the thoughts that plague you, those are yours and yours alone. So to those of you who don't finish, or don't make the cut-off, my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry I ever thought less of you. I am sorry I used to think anyone could finish an Ironman. Because I was wrong. So very wrong. Finishing an Ironman is H.A.R.D. No matter what. As a matter of fact, I now realize that those who drop out or miss the cutt-off suffer leagues more than those who finish, and especially those who finish under 14 hours. Because those athletes are having an incredibly tough, incredibly unfortunate day. I cannot fathom the amount of suffering those athletes must be feeling.

All in all, I am grateful for the lessons Ironman Canada taught me. Never again will I underestimate how hard an Ironman is, no matter how many I've done. I've never experienced such pain and suffering before, and I definitely had my God moment out there on the bike course, my revelation, stripped of everything but my soul, nothing else remaining. And I rose up from the ashes, and continued to put one foot in front of the other. When I reached the finish line, it was nothing short of glorious, victorious, triumphant rapture. I'd like to believe, I am a stronger, more humble, more compassionate person on the other side of that finish line. Nothing comes easy, that's for sure. But I'm glad. Because I wouldn't reap all the gains and benefits if it was easy.


Krista said...

Well said! I especially appreciate #4. It is so easy to judge others - we all do it. Thanks for the reminder to have compassion and remember that you have no idea what anyone else is going through. Probably a good lesson for all of life - not just Ironman.

Alisa said...

This is so incredibly true!

While I have never DNF'd I have come in last. I think it's those races, the ones that nearly kill us (mentally, physically or both) that make us better athletes and people.

Your entire journey, including the gut wrenching (literally for you) race report was incredibly inspiring.

Diana said...

Really nice post. I have my "ironman" coming up in a few weeks which is a kettlebell certification workshop. We all train for something or another and it's the actual training that seems to make me who I am more so than what I am training for. I love kettlebells as I do running/biking and swimming-to go through a workshop, I've heard, is the most grueling thing I could ever do-that alone stirs up the IBS! It's hard to put all the stress and pressure I put on myself on the back burner, no matter how much I fail is a very tough pill to swallow.
I watched IM Wisconsin last night on live feed via internet, to see the faces of participants coming across "their" finish line-brings tears to my eyes. It is such a cool feeling to accomplish something we want so terribly bad! My friend was doing that IM last night for the third time and for her, her race ended at mile 19 of the marathon going to the med tent. But she's doing OK today, sad, but OK. At least that's what she says-like you say-you never know the exact feelings of fellow athletes.
Ooops, sorry for babbling on!
Nice job on the IM and it's really nice to connect with such great people

Backpacker said...

Apology accepted. I dnfed in Coer d'alene, and while I regret not finishing (with only 6 miles to go!) I do not regret dropping out when I did. Live to fight another day, I decided. I really wanted to quit after the bike, so in a way I considered it a personal triumph to make it another 20 miles. Kudos to you, once again.

bunnygirl said...

You did a great job, Rachel, but yeah, none of us knows what someone else is really going through out there. It's true that some people show up under-prepared and bring the suffering on themselves. But for plenty of others, it may just not be their day.

The best athletes in the world have days when they fall apart. It wasn't their day. Who are we to judge?

Congrats again on finishing under such adverse circumstances! I think if you take the official GI Ailment Handicap, you can count this one as a PR. ;)

Mel-2nd Chances said...

Amazing post. Congrats on your accomplishment! Amazing.

Jack said...

I imagine an Ironman is much like a long ultra, the layers are stripped away until only your bare soul is left. This is where you find out who you really are, when you have dug so deep that you feel you can no longer heave the shovel, but then you manage to raise it one more time…and again and again until you find yourself falling over the finish line. These are the races that are never forgotten, because you leave a part of your old self out there and return with wisdom that can only be found through the journey. I lift my glass to the new, improved Rachel!

Wes said...

My coach always prefers process goals over time goals, because you have control over the process. Deep down inside though, we all have super secret time goals. Just gotta be flexible and ready to toss them aside...

Anytime you walk away from a race having learned something, its a good day!!

Now, we are moving forward :-)

Sherry said...

Beautiful post, Rachel.

All of the races that I've done so far have been short races... and I've had goals beyond 'just' finish for all of them (including this half iron that I have coming up). With Ironman, though, that's such a different beast... and I really don't think you could have said it any better... a spiritual journey where goals or PRs, etc... are best left at the starting line.

Congrats to you again. You are amazing!

KO said...

I just came across your blog, keep it up, I where u would have been a while back, I am just starting my steps to training for a triathlon, I look forward to reading your blog.


Jonathan said...

Your no expectations comment has me thinking about my goal times now and the fact that I may need to change it to--just finish or as Wes says be flexible!
I have always had fragmented thoughts of why I am doing an Ironman, but I can see how those reasons would be difficult to remember during the pain. You've motivated me to structure and memorize all my reasons so I can remember, when I ask myself WHY?

utmomof 5 said...

I just found you and have been reading about your experiences. Your race report had me crying for you. Thank you for sharing all your struggles and joys.

While I only do sprint Tri's I think all the things in this post apply to me too.

Tri Buddha said...

I am glad to see that this Ironman left you more than what a PR could have left you. In defeat we often learn more than in victory.

Love your blog

Colleen said...

Amazing job! And I applaud you for not only finishing, but learning some things along the way. That's all part of the journey isn't it? :) Way to go!

Anonymous said...

What a great race report. Love the honesty.