Of all the triathlons I have done over the past several years, I did not advertise this latest one as much as the others. Few knew I was doing one and I certainly didn’t remind anyone that I was attempting a half-Ironman today. I wondered why I chose to keep this one quiet, but then it occurred to me around mile 38 of the bike course.
This was a personal race, this one was meant for me alone and for me to understand. And only a very select few really knew what was going into this race. This wasn’t about finishing or saying that I have returned to triathlon after nearly a year of hiatus. No, this was about proving something to myself. But I wasn’t proving that I was tough or strong. I was proving to myself that I am not a quitter. I don’t walk away from these challenges.
The failure at mile 75 of Ironman Arizona in 2008 haunted me deeper than I led on. I didn’t pull out because I wasn’t feeling well. I pulled out because I just gave up. My mind had given up on me completely and there was nothing I could do. In an earlier post I intimated the various reasons for my failure, but the bottom line was that I gave up.
Since then, every bike ride, every run, every swim has been a challenge. If I wasn’t riding with someone that I needed to keep up or finish with, I couldn’t be sure that I would complete my goal. It was very easy to give up. As the months passed leading to today’s event, I became stronger, more committed, and more determined. But there was no guarantee that I would really be able to pull it together when it mattered.
This morning was challenging. When I arrived at the race site, I contemplated not starting a dozen times. It was cold, I had no idea what the water would be like, and I knew that bike ride was the most challenging thing I had ever attempted. Lika and Sarah showed up and I felt obligated to at least start the race.
The swim surprised me. The water was comfortable, and even though I was one of the last participants in, I started pulling ahead of the others. I felt great. All the swim training I had done the past three months was paying off. My strokes were consistent and powerful. I was feeling. In fact, I was feeling great. I came out of the water with a huge grin. The feeling was back.
The bike ride was not a surprise to me. I rode the majority of the course 5 times so I knew every stretch and curve of the race. I was a bit shocked to learn that my bike was already in its lowest gear as I started the ride, but once I got on the main road, I found my groove. I was surprised that my heart rate was a low as it was. In fact, it was right on target and was consistent with the training rides. The initial 7-mile climb felt good, but it was the 3-mile and 4-mile climbs, each which I would have to climb twice, that concerned me.
My greatest concern was making the 1:15pm cutoff. At one point I told myself that if I made the cutoff, I would just call it a day. Another moment I told myself to call it a day after the first loop. The loop came and went. I started the second loop knowing that the chances of making the cutoff was diminishing.
I had just started the penultimate climb when clarity found me. I marveled at the past 10 months of my life. I reflected on my mental and emotional state at the beginning of the year. I thought about the challenges I faced. Somehow, I was here, I was participating, and most importantly, I was moving forward. Regardless of the circumstances that began 2009 for me, I found a way through. I had not given up. And this ride was a metaphor.
At mile 30 I concluded that I was going to keep moving forward and not stop until I made it to the end or I was told that I had to stop. Three times I was approached by the support crew and all three times they asked if I wanted to call it a day and ride in the van. I told them all the same thing: “I am not stopping until you tell me that I have to stop.” Each driver told me that they admired my determination.
I was 1 mile from the top of the climb when a truck pulled up next to me and told me that I had to stop. I was too far away to make the cutoff mark and they needed to start opening the road. I pulled over and handed over my bike and climbed into the truck. There were several other riders in the van, each of them with looks of disappointment on their faces. One of them asked how I was doing. I answered: “I didn’t quit. I kept moving until they told me I couldn’t go any further.”
Although I did not finish the race, I was not defeated. I had battled the demons within me once again. The voices that told me to stop and give up were just as strong as ever, but this time I was strong enough to not listen to them. This time I kept going. No matter how my feet were hurting from walking up portions of the hill, I kept moving. Just like the old days.
I arrived home, tired, worn out, and even a little sunburned. But I haven’t stopped smiling since I got out of the swim. I waged war on all the voices that told me that I was too old to do this, that I was wasting my money and my time, that I wasn’t really getting anything from doing this. I waged war and won.
I may not have finished the race, but I still won.
And that is what this is all about.