The next and probably biggest step I took toward making the Ironman a reality was signing up for a Half Ironman in June on 2015. With running I progressed very slowly and very safely. I did the first 5k in 2009 and stuck with that distance for about a year. In 2011 I ran my first half marathon and ran my first full in October the following year. With triathlons, although I considered playing it safe, instead as soon as I finished the IronGirl sprint I registered for the Syracuse Half Ironman.
It’s just like getting married, buying a house, or having kids, I don’t think you ever really feel ready to do that distance, so I signed up and forced myself to get ready.
The entire experience of training for that distance was full of firsts. The first time I rode my bike 50 miles by myself. The first time I completed an open water swim in water deep enough I couldn’t see the bottom. The first time I swam a mile without taking a break. Every step in preparation for that race was getting me one step closer to my ultimate goal in Lake Placid.
The morning of the race was a cluster of emotions, did I remember to put sneakers in my running bag? Did my bike tires go flat over night? Do I have to poop one more time before this race starts? What if I get a flat, what if I crash, what if I get kicked in the face during the swim and lose my goggles, what if, what if?
Through all those questions, the biggest one looming in my mind, the question that I couldn’t seem to find an answer to was- What the hell do you think you’re doing here?
Despite all the training I had done to get myself to that start line, despite the pounds lost and strength gained, I still felt like an imposter. In my mind there were a hundred reasons why I wasn’t a real athlete and why I didn’t belong there, and as soon as that gun went off everyone would know.
It’s interesting isn’t it, the barriers that we will put in front of ourselves? The challenge of racing 70.3 miles wasn’t enough, I had to battle myself before I could take the first step. One thing I have learned about myself, and years of living with depression, is that my mind will work against me. I actually had prepared for this for the run part of the race. I planned out who and what each mile of the 13.1 was dedicated to. It’s an exercise in mental training to get through the hardest part of the race without music as a distraction. It never occurred to be to do the same thing for the start of the race.
Then something amazing happened.
Out on my bike, about 20 miles into the ride, we hit a flat section of the course. As far ahead of me as I could see were other athletes riding the same path that I was. I peddled my heart out and looked at all those bikes, I knew in that moment with every part of me that I was right where I belonged.
In that space I knew that all the challenges in my life had made me strong and resilient inside and out. I knew the battles with my body and my weight were a training ground for greater things. Instead of seeing life’s challenges as something designed to make my life harder, I finally saw it all as an opportunity to learn and grow and figure out who you really.
The rest of the race is blur of sweat and work, Gatorade, and high fives. I crossed the finish line, I got the metal I had worked so hard for. I packed up my gear and went home heart soaring and feeling full of accomplishment. It was that moment of realization in the back roads of Syracuse that stays with me when I think of that race. The first time I was able to truly silence the nagging doubt, the space in time when I knew I was right where I belonged. Even though I didn’t know it at the time that was the moment I knew I was going to be an Ironman.