Sunday, May 4, 2014

St. George Half Ironman

I was so nervous heading down to St. George to compete in the half Ironman this weekend. So many mixed emotions hit me in the weeks leading up to it. There was a lot of excitement, typical of anticipation for a big race. Some nerves. And some fear.

Ironman has been a long-time goal of mine. I decided early in my twenties that I wanted to complete one by the end of my twenties. And here I am. I've attempted the full Ironman once and had a very traumatic experience doing so. And I turn thirty in about two weeks.

Brandt and I were concerned about being able to complete the half Ironman. The St. George course is very difficult. And having not finished a triathlon before and having trained through the winter in Salt Lake City, we weren't really sure how prepared we were. We knew that the final cut-off time for the race was 8 hours and 30 minutes, and having failed to make the 17-hour cut-off time in 2012 when I attempted the full distance, I was very afraid of a repeat performance.

We mapped it out and guessed that on our best day we might complete the race as fast as 7 hours. And so that's what we hoped for. But we admitted that as long as we finished, even if it was cutting it really close to the 8 hour 30 minute time limit, we would be proud of ourselves and ready to move on to the next phase of our training: the Lake Tahoe full Ironman at the end of the summer.

The race started at 7:00 in the morning in the pretty cold lake. Groups left in waves, starting three minutes apart. Although Brandt and I are both 29, because of where our birthdays fall we were in different age groups and so Brandt's swim started three minutes before mine.

Brandt is a phenomenally good swimmer. I think he was the Little Mermaid in a former life. WHICH EXPLAINS THE HAIR, and which my sisters commented still looked Disney-prince-like throughout the day, even after several hours of competing.

When my swim started, a rush of panic shot through me. Not quite acclimated to the 60-degree water, I had a hard time catching my breath. In addition, dozens of people were crashing into me from all sides and I started having terrible flashbacks to what was one of the more frightening experiences of my life when the winds blew in 2012 and caused me to become separated from the crowd.

I forced myself to be calm. This was hard to do. But I told myself over and over that panicking wasn't going to be helpful. My little pep talk continued until I pulled myself up out of the water about 42 minutes after starting.

This is not an incredibly fast time. But you guys. Look at my face. I. am. not. a. swimmer. And when I saw that I had completed this portion somewhere in the middle of the crowd, I was ecstatic. And I triumphantly ran through the transition to collect my bike like I had just been called up on The Price is Right and I knew they were due for a game of Plinko soon.

On the way through transition I was stopped by a man assigned to relieve me of my wetsuit. I had decided before the race started that I was going to spend the day pretending that I was one of those people from Downton Abbey who had a whole staff assigned to take care of my every need. And I had planned to refer to each volunteer in my mind as a "footman" or "lady's maid." But I ended up not feeling as graceful as Lady Mary, ALTHOUGH I TRIED, while rolling around naked on the asphalt as a man ripped my cold wetsuit from my body.

And I felt even less graceful when I jogged barefoot in my underwear into an outhouse to have explosive diarrhea on top of what looked like at least 80 other people's explosive diarrhea in that same transition.

TMI warning! Don't read that last paragraph if you don't want to know those intimate details!

I worked my way through the transition and mounted Paul Cyclemon, a huge grin on my face, still pleased that the swim had gone so well and that I felt strong.

This bike course was an extremely challenging 56 miles of long and steep climbs. And I worried about how it would go, knowing that the most difficult climb, through Snow Canyon, awaited me deep into the race.

But I rode on. And I felt good doing it, maintaining a pace I was surprised to be able to maintain.

When I finally reached the bottom of Snow Canyon and began the long climb, I was tired and achy but already proud of myself for how far I had come. I put my head down and pushed. And pushed. And pushed.

It was exactly like having a baby.

I passed dozens of people as I rode up the canyon, feeling so much emotion and elation that I was really accomplishing something that I've worked long and hard to accomplish.

And before I knew it, I was riding into the second transition to change into my running clothes and begin the half marathon.

The run was hard. The first half of it consisted of mostly climbing, and I felt myself losing steam as I went. It was hot, too, and I couldn't seem to get enough fluids in me.

But I ran. I felt myself wanting to walk many times, but I kept telling myself that I was capable. And after a while, I started to believe it. And before I knew it, I saw the finish line ahead. You can make fun of me, but I cried a little as I crossed it.

I averaged about a 7:50 mile on the run and finished the race in 5 hours and 32 minutes. And I could not possibly be happier about it. Brandt's time was about two and a half minutes faster than mine, and I couldn't be more proud of him.

This race was one of the more difficult things that I've done. But I had sort of an interesting thing happen as I was climbing Snow Canyon on the bike and then again as I approached the final few miles of the run, fatigued and in pain.

I started thinking about my Ironman experience in 2012. I remembered the mixed feelings that day as I got kicked out of the race. I was devastated. But I also realized that I had something to be proud of for working so hard to get to that point, even if I wasn't able to complete the Ironman.

I started thinking about what I wrote about that experience at that time. And the reminder of those thoughts inspired me on Saturday. I'M NOT SAYING THAT I'M SO AMAZING THAT I EVEN INSPIRE MYSELF. It's just that, in those difficult moments during the race this weekend, I remembered some lessons I learned two years ago that I really needed to remember while racing this half Ironman.

I remembered that I wrote that Ironman St. George was never really the goal, but rather, was just a place where Daniel and I could showcase what we had gained while accomplishing the real goal.

And I remembered that I had written this:

I think no failure is permanent as long as you keep on pushing. No setback means anything about your character as long as you don't accept it as your destiny. And no experience is without value, as long as you cherish the strange parts of it.

It hit me this weekend, as I swam and biked and ran, that I was keeping setback from becoming my destiny. I was doing this race. I am going at it again, and pushing myself to achieve something that I just didn't quite achieve last time. And in that moment, I was really really proud of myself for this. Because I felt like this was saying something about my character.

None of these feelings of accomplishment and excitement and pride about my evolving character were really about the Ironman. This race on Saturday represented so much more to me than being able to do a triathlon. It was all emblematic of a much more significant life victory that I have fought with emotional blood, sweat, and tears over the last couple of years right along side the physical blood, sweat, and tears it took to prepare me to succeed in this race.

Those battles--the emotional and the physical one--have paralleled one another so poetically since I picked up Ironman training at the end of 2011. I chose to compete at that time because my life felt so unsure and complicated and lonely and I believed that I needed something at that time on which I could totally focus.

I was lonely and unhappy with who I was and I believed that if I could do something like this, maybe I could convince myself that I was brave and capable of weathering any storm.

I worked so hard at it, and ultimately came up short in 2012. And that crushing failure represented so much to me about my ability to, well, weather any storm.

My fears and weaknesses only got worse after that and throughout the next year or so I felt myself dying a bit inside as I continually felt less and less like someone who could be brave and as I felt more and more like someone who didn't have much character.

When I returned from Palau last fall, broken and scared, I finally started facing all of those fears. And for the second time, I decided to start training for an Ironman, believing that I had unfinished business and something that I still needed to prove to myself.

My transformation of body and spirit in the last few months has been drastic. And wonderful. And I have found a peace and happiness that I have never known before in my life.

Tears came to my eyes as I ran past mile 11 in this race on Saturday and I realized how far I've come and how proud I am of what I have found to be my character.

And I needed to have that feeling now. It's a feeling I would have killed to have a year ago as I sat in the dark tropics at the lowest of my lows, feeling like there wasn't much left of my character.

It's a feeling I could have used as I pulled myself from a very dark place at the end of 2013 and tried to convince myself that I had worth.

Everyone is struggling with something. Everyone is struggling with a lot of somethings. And I don't think that there is a one-size-fits-all generalized statement to explain exactly how we're all supposed to move along and progress through those somethings.

But if there's anything I've learned from this experience so far it's that we become our best selves if we let ourselves get broken down first. I've learned that failure means as much as we are willing to assign meaning to it. And I've learned that failure is wasted when we refuse to assign any meaning to it at all.

Platitudes? They still might be. But they still feel right. So I'll take them, and I'll run with them. And bike with them. And maybe even swim a little, too.

~It Just Gets Stranger






60 comments:

  1. Congratulations! You kicked butt!

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  2. I'm so proud of you Elli! Reading about your struggles has truly helped me keep going through some of the tougher points in the last year and a half. I know we're still essentially strangers, but I'm deeply happy for you that you have rediscovered your character. I'm sorry you ever doubted yourself, because reading about your adventures and misadventures, one thing was very clear and that was that you are a deeply good and giving person, aware of your weaknesses, and striving to be better. Remember that you helped a Stranger navigate a pretty nerve-wracking time even while dealing with your own struggles, and add that to your list of things you should be proud of yourself for!

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  3. YOU ARE SO AWESOME! Congratulations on facing your fear.

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  4. Oh yay yay yay yay!!!!!! I am SOOOO PROUD OF YOU!!!! I thought about you this weekend, and hoped it went well for you! Congrats!!!!!

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  5. Congrats Eli! Your hair looked great.

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  6. Yay!! Congratulations! Your hair looks amazing and your legs are whiter than all the snow in Frozen.

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  7. Congratulations!!! I am really very happy for you, thank you for sharing this experience with us all, really appreciate it!

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  8. Iron man competition = giving birth. This is a fact.

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  9. What do you mean "half"? I dont understand. Does that mean you did not finish? Why did you get a medal?

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    1. It means this was a half Ironman race. The distance was half the distance of a full Ironman race. He did finish (and with a fast time! Way to go Eli!). He's going to do a full Ironman in a few months so this one was like a stepping stone to the next race.

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    2. He received a medal because Paul Simon and I think you've lost some weight. Twice up the barrel.

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  10. Ahhh so proud of you Eli!

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  11. This post made me cry. So proud of you!

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  12. You should change the name of this blog to "It Just Gets Whinier."

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    1. You should stop getting your kicks from anonymously bullying people on the internet. If you don't like it, leave.

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  13. Since I live vicariously through you, does that mean I get a medal too for finishing the half? I'm so proud of us!

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  14. Way to go Eli! Awesome job and congratulations in completing the Ironman.

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  15. I am so proud of you! As a dedicated interent stalker, I remember watching your times on your first Ironman and wondering what happened when your times stopped posting. I was so worried. I'm so glad this experience was so much better for you and you had a great time. If Brandt started 3 minutes ahead and you finished 2.5 minutes behind, YOU MADE UP GROUND. Disney hair or not, you can totally kick his hiney on the full Ironman! (Just go with it.) Go Eli!

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    1. Thanks dedicated Internet stalker! And I think I wasn't very clear: Brandt finished about 5 and a half minutes before I did, but when our different start times were factored in, his total time was about 2 and a half minutes faster than mine. I am devastated by this defeat and have not spoken to him since.

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    2. And I think all the strangers can agree that is the exact correct response to your devastation. This is not enabling, this is simply reinforcing correct and acceptable behavior.

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    3. Next time, sabotage Brandt's transition area... just sayin' :-)
      Seriously, congrats on a great race!

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  16. You had me at Plinko.

    Huge congrats! And that's coming from a guy who knows how it feels to give birth during a particularly hot climb.

    You raise me up. So I can stand on mountains.......and all that other stuff Josh Groban says. Well done!

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  17. Well done, friend. Well done.

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  18. Um, I think you owe us an apology. It was US after all who didn't stop you from starting all this, remember? You're welcome.

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  19. Dude, I was so shocked when I read your final time!!! That is so awesome!

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  20. Eli, from one triathlete to another, that is a seriously impressive time! Way to go!

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  21. I think you are absolutely amazing Eli! Thanks for being an example to me and to so many others of not letting setbacks knock you completely down. What an accomplishment too! It makes me so happy to see you achieving your dreams!

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  22. Very proud of you and Brandt! And do I see a tat on your arm?? I didn't think you were "hip" enough for tattoos.

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    1. Nah, they write your race number on your arm and your age on the back of your leg in these races. But he is totally hip enough to have strangers write on him so it is almost the same.

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  23. I'm just really excited that your bike is named Paul Cyclemon and you make Price is Right references. But great job!

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  24. Though I'm not sure why someone would ever intentionally try to kill themselves by participating in a triathlon ;) I think it is just awesome that you accomplished your goal & really blew your finish time out of the water from what you anticipated. I really enjoy blog stalking your site & reading your hilarious & inspiring posts. Thanks for sharing!!

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  25. Way to go dude! I knew you could do it. Of course a full Ironman is about 5 times harder than a 1/2 Ironman (I hear). I'm planning on doing one next year - this year is just sprint and half distances. So, get back in that wetsuit and grab Paul Cyclemon and get out there! No rest for the wicked - or something like that.

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  26. WHAT?!? You had us all convinced that you were going to die this weekend, so SOME of us spent all weekend in mourning - doing things like collecting stray cats around town while wearing a freshly laundered snuggie on our way to an asian bathhouse or two. NO BIG DEAL. I mean, we couldn't possibly have had anything else to do. We even had a cemetery plot picked out for you - the Queen of Colors helped. http://www.flickr.com/photos/tessdel/9312714666/

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    1. Amazing picture, Melissa!

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    2. Haha - thanks. Wish I could take credit for it, but alas, I googled.

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  27. Congratulations on not only getting through it, but on that amazing time!

    Love this post. You are so right.

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  28. Awesome! All weekend I was thinking, "I wonder what Eli will say about the half ironman." and of course you said things and the things you said were fantastic. As always it was a joy. And your hair looks fantastic in the one picture of you without a hat, so watch out Mr. Prince Disney Hair! Eli's got game! All your strangers are proud of you and your hair. Congrats!

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  29. You are amazing and inspiring!! I finally started a blog of my own (not any where close to being as cool as yours) because reading yours made me feel like I could do it if I wanted to. I love reading your posts every day especially if I'm having a really bad day and need a pick me up or a laugh. I hope you never stop writing

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  30. I DON'T EVEN KNOW YOU AND I'M EMOTIONAL OVER THIS. Would it be weird if I told you I thought about you on Saturday and wondered how you were doing? Would it be weird if I hugged you through the internet?

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    1. Not weird. I think a lot of strangers were sitting there, sipping their iced tea, eating fried chicken and thinking, "Gosh, Eli is killing himself right now. Well, better him than me." And then we took a nap. ;)

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    2. Yeah, pretty much! I read this was like "I'm so proud of Eli!!!" But yeah... better him than me. :p

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  31. Son, brilliant post (except for that "explosive" part). Having witnessed you swimming, biking and running in this race personally.....I know it was hard and hot. Very hard! You pursued and conquered a mighty goal, finished in the top 25% and found deeper meaning in it all than most people probably do. So proud to be your mom.

    Cathie. XoXoXoooXXXo

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  32. Way to go, Eli! Aren't you glad we didn't talk you out of this?

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  33. Proof that I was raised with a bunch of brothers: the part that made me laugh the hardest was the entire "explosive diarrhea" section. *Stifling another fit of giggles*

    Congratulations on finishing, and in such good time!

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  34. (Would it be creepy if I asked Cathie to adopt me?)

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  35. I was thinking of you on Saturday and was looking forward to reading about it on Monday. Congratulations on finishing! I love that you got more out of it than just finishing the race, some people say that pain (physical or mental) is the touchstone of all spiritual growth... Here's to growing :)

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  36. We all self talk. And I'd be wiling to be it's not always pretty. It's awesome how you're willing to share the thoughts that you've spoken to yourself through good and bad times. I appreciate it and have allowed some of your thoughts to sit in my mind as well.
    I'm curious, if you were another person, would you be friends with you? I think you would....

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  37. I really tried to focus on your words about struggle and transformation and all...but I have to admit, you lost me at "explosive diarrhea." What?! Why?! Is that par for the course (excuse the pun) for triathletes?

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  38. Thank you so much for the incredibly inspirational post! You are an incredible person, Eli. I have felt so inspired by you over the last couple of years reading about your experiences. You give me hope and make me see life in a different way and for that I will always be thankful to you.

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  39. This post made me cry just now! Proud of you!

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  40. I freaking love how this blog feels like a favorite book that never ends. The story keeps unfolding and I keeping getting more and more out of it. Please never stop writing!

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  41. Yay! You did it! Your readers knew you could do it.

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  42. Rock on Eli!!! So proud of your accomplishment!! :D

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  43. AWESOME!!! and so is your hair!!!

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  44. Congrats on a successful race and goal. I was bummed to miss it, but I'll be there in September at Tahoe and will add you to my cheer list. I may even have a poster for you. :)

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