Monday, September 22, 2014

Ironman Lake Tahoe, 2014

We made our trek west bright and early Friday morning for the Lake Tahoe Ironman. A couple of months ago I asked Nic if he would be willing to come along as my support staff for the race, and he graciously agreed. This stuff is interesting to him, an avid road biker and swimmer, although he thinks anyone who does Ironman races is crazy and he emphatically explains (to anyone who asks) that he has no interest in engaging in something so “stupid, thankyouverymuch.”

I met Nic through road biking earlier this year and it was through this sort of thing that we bonded so it was good to have someone come along to Tahoe with me who knew a little something about what I would be doing and could help me prepare for the race.

Bob and Cathie drove out to Tahoe as well, arriving a day after us. We had to get to Tahoe a little earlier to begin the logistics nightmare that is Ironman race preparation, including an intensive check-in process, the packing of half a dozen colored bags with supplies and clothes, dropping the bags and bike off at various locations, and then spending the rest of the day experiencing terrorizing realizations that something didn’t get packed or did get packed but into the wrong bag.

This race was slightly more complicated than usual. The unpredictable weather made it actually really difficult to plan what clothes to pack and which clothes to put in each bag, which required me to largely guess as to what I might want at different points of the potentially 17-hour race, which would begin at 7:00 AM and could extend as late as midnight.

The anxiety built over the course of the two days in Tahoe leading up to Ironman. It was strange to wander Tahoe, engaging in race preparation. There was a lot of nostalgia for a time just over two years ago when I first attempted Ironman. I remembered those first-time butterflies. The fear of the unknown. The excitement Daniel and I had as we drove to St. George to accomplish a goal we had worked so long and hard to accomplish.

I felt some bad nostalgia, too. The feelings we had after the excessive winds blew in that day and prevented us from making it beyond mile 70 of the biking portion of the triathlon. It was devastating. And I’ll never forget the feeling I had two years ago as I walked back to the hotel from the course, defeated and disappointed.

I stayed positive in Tahoe this weekend, excited for the opportunity to finish the unfinished business. Older and wiser this time, I knew that I was much more prepared to fight my way to the finish line. I knew, also, that I had trained much harder and longer for this race than I had for St. George in 2012.

I began my training for Tahoe almost one year ago. It has largely governed my life. Countless hours on the bike, or in the pool, or on the streets have contributed to the cause. I’ve dreamed of the moment that I would cross that finish line and accomplish a goal I have dreamed about for nearly 15 years now.

Beyond the nostalgia, there was a great amount of emotion for me as we entered Tahoe. This race and my efforts to finish it represented so much about my ability to overcome challenges. To stick to something. To follow through. And just getting to Tahoe after a year of very hard work already felt like a mini victory. Mini, but significant.

Race morning came and I was up at 3:30, eating and double-checking anything I could think of to double check. Nic drove me to the lake and I began the race-site preparations. I checked on Paul Cyclemon. I got out of the light rainfall and waited a while in a tent. And finally I pulled on my wetsuit and made my way to the beach where I climbed into the cold-but-not-unbearable water. 

I splashed around a bit, watching hundreds of other competitors swimming around and testing their swim gear. There was an excitement in the air, the kind that probably can't be perfectly replicated in any other scenario. 

The camaraderie at the beginning of an Ironman race is infectious, and never do I experience a greater sense of community and support than in these moments. I think it must be because of the shared experience. The shared experience of the months and months of excruciatingly difficult training. Disappointments. Milestones. Tears. Inspiration. Fear-facing that everyone on the beach on race morning understands. And it all culminates in this one big moment where thousands of people gather from all over the world to express and celebrate the results of their efforts as a group and with their families and friends.

It's beautiful.

I love that moment. And I basked in it as I acclimated to the water temperature. I swam around a bit, waiting for the word that the race would begin. And that’s when the announcer came on the loud speakers and informed us that winds had blown smoke from local forest fires into the area and significant portions of the bike course had become unsafe.

The entire event was cancelled. Just like that.

Cancelled. 

I was standing waist-deep in the water when he said it. It knocked the wind out of me. I thought for sure he would come back on and say it was all a joke. I looked to the left of me where an older woman stood. Tears started streaming down her face. Another woman standing in the water in a wetsuit embraced her and through tears of her own said, "I know. You have worked so hard for this. I'm so sorry." 

That older woman next to me who started crying heard what we had all heard: that dream—that goal you have worked so hard to accomplish—it isn’t going to happen.

Everyone slowly walked back onto the beach to greet their disappointed family and friends. People hugged and cried and consoled one another and said things like, "today just isn't the day." 

It sounds overly dramatic. I know. It’s just a triathlon. Much worse things happen in this world. For example, people are losing homes in this fire, which is a much bigger deal than the cancellation of some stupid race. None of that is lost on me.

But to those of us who worked so hard to get there, this wasn’t just some stupid race. This all represented more. And, yeah, this isn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to me or could ever happen to anyone. But I was devastated in that moment. And I think that’s ok. Because the loss I experienced that morning was significant to me and to all of those people standing out there in that water. 

Sometimes the best way to show your gratitude for something is to be devastated when it's lost. That's why it is often so beautiful and inspirational to watch loved ones mourn their disappointments. It gives you a rare glimpse into their capacity to care and propensity to love.

I wandered like a zombie through the crowds in my cold and dripping wetsuit until I found Nic. He had a look of commiserating disappointment on his face. He told me he was sorry and said he would meet me out on the road while I changed and retrieved Paul Cyclemon.

I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t frustrated. I was just really really sad as I went back into the transition area to get my things. 

There were thousands of people there, but it was really quiet. Each person was digging through the piles of bags to find their own, thanking the volunteers who did their best to let their own disappointment take a back seat to what the athletes must have been feeling, offering condolences and sympathetic smiles instead of commiseration, something I was very grateful for in that moment.

I know it’s totally irrational and I don’t need anyone to try to talk me out of this feeling because I get that I shouldn’t have it, but I felt like I had failed somehow. Once again I didn’t accomplish the goal I had set. And here I was, 15 years after deciding that I would finish an Ironman by 30, and I hadn’t done it. I had tried. Heaven knows I have tried. But I haven’t done it.

I have failed.

I thought that to myself as I rolled Paul Cyclemon off of the course to find Nic.

He met me on the street and we walked the half mile to where he had parked the car. We walked mostly in silence. Although we did have a small conversation about what this cancellation would mean for my future plans and when I might be able to try again.

We loaded the bike onto the car and got in. I was quiet, as you can imagine I would be. I was disappointed. I didn’t feel like it was the end of the world. But in that moment I was really disappointed.

Nic isn’t the flatterer type. He doesn’t say nice things just for the sake of making people feel better. And he probably usually isn't the most comforting person to have around in moments of extreme disappointment because his natural response is not to try to convince anyone that everything is going to be ok. But what that means is that when he does say words of comfort, they are really sincere and they mean a lot.

So it ended up being a wonderful thing that he was there when he turned to me from the drivers’ seat of the car and said very matter-of-factly, “look. I know you’re disappointed and I know you’re sad and I know you were so excited to come and do this and I know you have worked really hard for this. But you should know that I am still so proud of you.”

It was only slightly embarrassing that I then started crying. I pulled sunglasses over my face and fought back the tears all the way to the hotel. And the tears came off and on throughout the rest of the day.

I felt bad that everyone had come all that way for nothing. Bob and Cathie were the wonderful and gracious parents they always are. “ARE YOU KIDDING?! WE GOT OUT OF OUR RESPONSIBILITIES FOR THREE DAYS! WE’LL TRAVEL ANYWHERE FOR A CANCELLED IRONMAN RACE ANYTIME!”

When things like this happen, people tend to say stuff like, “it’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” Or “the race is just an opportunity to showcase what you’ve accomplished in the months leading up to it.” I think I wrote something like that about the last Ironman attempt.

And I believe that those things are true. I believe that I can be proud of myself too, even though it didn’t work out again.


But when disappointment is fresh and loss is recent, any words of comfort tend to feel like empty platitudes. So I hold onto them and store them away somewhere, hoping that a week or two later when I'm ready to appreciate them, I can recall those words and allow them to give me perspective that I'm not ready to have when that disappointment is fresh and that loss is recent. 

But even still, already I can think back on the year I've had preparing for this race and see how it has changed me. I can see how it has highlighted the support that I have in my life. I can see how it has reinforced the purity of consistent perseverance. And I can recognize the ways in which this training has been a companion and teacher to me in the never-ending effort to work through all of life's difficulties. 

I can see that experience is never wasted if you care for it. That a failure or loss never says anything about your character as long as you don't let it become your destiny. And that the greatest measure of a person's goodness has less to do with what they accomplish and more to do with what they never stop trying to accomplish.

So I'll take those thoughts. And I'll move on. And I'll keep trying, and pushing, and figuring out some way, some day, to be proud of me, too.

~It Just Gets Stranger

39 comments:

  1. I am so, so sorry, Eli. I can't imagine that collection of emotions you've been feeling. You definitely haven't failed. I know it's hard not to feel like you have, but you haven't. You have done everything you could to make this happen. And whether you decide to go for it again or not, just the fact that you have given so much to your training and focus on this race means you have succeeded.

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  2. so sorry man! i was tearing up for you as i read it. i've run some big races and can try to imagine how i would have felt if one of them had been cancelled. that's really really tough. sorry!

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    1. I can't think of a more insensitive response.
      Just because you don't find triathlons a worthy way to spend your time doesn't mean you can belittle those that do.

      Eli, I am sorry for your disappointment. I am not a runner, but I can relate to the disappointment of having prepared for something for so long, just to find it isn't going to happen that day. I hope you get your Ironman. I know your goal was by 30, but an Ironman after 30 is incredible as well. I admire your drive to accomplish your dreams.

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    2. Wow. Did you read all the parts where he said he realized there were bigger problems? Yes, someone losing their house in this fire and many other calamities are worse. But just because someone had it worse than you doesn't mean what happened to you wasn't bad/sad/disappointing/whatever. The next time something you've worked your butt off for for a year gets yanked out from under you, perhaps you will rethink your position.

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    3. Because a friend just texted me and asked and because it may be confusing to others: I didn't delete Nin's comment. She did. When it says a comment is deleted by the "author," that means the person who wrote the comment removed it. I rarely delete comments from Stranger and have only done so in the past if they are spam or if they are attacking people I love, with very few exceptions.

      Nin wrote me a pretty offensive email a little over a year ago and told me that she wasn't going to read Stranger anymore. I'm happy to have her back but I hope she can be a little kinder this time.

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  4. So sorry that it didn't work out the way you hoped it would. - an Oregon reader

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  5. Cancelled. Beyond your control. You would have kicked arse. Now on to the next great adventure. Twice up the barrel and so forth.

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  6. Eli, I don't often say this, but I know EXACTLY how you feel. My family and I worked so hard this summer getting our house ready to sell, and looking for a new home for us, we ended up renting our house out, and moving in to a perfect house for us, on the assurance of our lender that the money was ready to go. Then, a week in, we found out that THERE WAS NO LOAN. The lender had apparently had some kind of a breakdown, ended up falsifying documents and lying to us for weeks that the loan was in process. We had to move back into our old house, and we found this out the day we were going to hand over the keys to the renter! All our hard work, all the showings for months, and it was all for nothing. It still feels like such a failure, even though I know it was completely out of our control. Feeling deep disappointment and a sense of loss over something that you worked SO HARD for, for SO LONG, is normal. It means that you invested a part of yourself into achieving your goals, because it wouldn't hurt so badly if you didn't care so much. It's a healthy human reaction to grieve loss. We'll get through it though, eventually.

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  7. When I saw your Instagram post this weekend I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and I'm just a creepy blog stalker! I can't imagine how you felt. So sorry and still so proud of you for all your training.

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    1. I agree! I was so upset hearing that it was cancelled, and I'm not even the one who trained so hard! Sorry about this Eli, it really is awful.

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  8. I tried to post this on my phone twice and it didn't post. Tempe is in November. It looks like there are still charity spots that are open. I'm sure all of your stranger fans could pull together to raise the money for you. It's only two months away and it may be worth thinking about.

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    1. I feel a Kickstarter campaign coming... :-P

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  9. Why don't you have your own ironman race? Pick your own locations, do what you would have done this weekend and voila! Ironman complete.
    Just an idea :) I hope you feel better soon, it's okay to wallow though. "the thing about pain is that it demands to be felt."

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    1. This is EXACTLY what I was thinking! A personal Salt Lake City Ironman! And I'm betting TONS of your friends,.family, and Strangers in the region would LOVE to attend and cheer you on! It could end up being like a Stranger Convention of some sort!

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  10. Big bummer. And I TOTALLY get the pre-race infectious community. YES!

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  11. On behalf of all of California, I'm very sorry our weather conspired to be a bag of dicks to you and wreck the race. I know you and Paul Cyclemon would have kicked serious ass had you had the chance. And like Nic, I am proud of you.

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  12. Eli, I understand the excitement and anticipation you felt and the feeling of having it all ripped away by something you had absolutely no control over. Last year I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had tried for 2 years to become pregnant, we prayed for her so you can imagine how happy we were when we found out we were pregnant. Our daughter was VERY active, always moving around, even hit her dad in the face when he was talking to her. Then one day I got sick, very sick...the Drs. told me I had HELLP Syndrome. They said that I had to deliver my daughter or else we will both die....but there was a catch, I was only going on 5 months so they didn't know if she would make it. She didn't. We lost our baby and Heaven gained a beautiful angel that day. Even though I know the Ironman is not the same as this, the emotion you felt kind of is similar. We had a dream, we worked so hard to achieve this dream to literally have it just taken away by something you can't control. Reading this post from you reminded me of what I went through last year, the heartache, the crying, the disappointment, literally a roller coaster of emotions. When something major happens in your life it changes you and like you said it also highlights those who care the most about you. Those who want whats best for you. You amaze me Eli, you really do. I love reading your blog, there are so many moments when you say things that I truly can relate to or understand. You make me laugh, move me and at times bring tears to my eyes....this was one of those moments. We have been kicked down at something we truly wanted but we cannot let that stop us from moving forward and trying again. You will never forget that feeling of being ready to go and getting it taken away from you but don't let that prevent you from trying again. Anything worth having is worth the struggle and the pain. Don't give up because I know I haven't.

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    1. My heart goes out to you. Our experiences are not the same in severity. But thank you for your kind words of empathy. I can't imagine going through something like what you went through. Your amazing perspective shines through this comment. It's obvious that you are a remarkable person. Thank you for being an example to the rest of us.

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    2. You are an amazing person, anonymous! Most people I know would be saying the opposite, telling Eli that he shouldn't feel bad because their experience is worse. You are using your devastating experience to empathize with others and build relationships, even just internet blog relationships. It hurt my heart to hear about your loss but your attitude is inspiring. Eli, I was also saddened to hear about the ironman being cancelled. It's so hard when your goals are unobtainable, for whatever reason. I'm proud of you too for all your hard work training.

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  13. Eli, I am so sad for you. We all know how hard you trained for this, how much you wanted this and we are all so proud of you...even though we don't know you! You WILL get your Ironman one day!
    I know it's not the same but I was to run a Hypothermic Half Marathon this year which happened to fall on my birthday...I thought it would be an awesome way to start my 37th year. The weather that day was a truly hypothermic -40 degrees Celsius (f-ing cold even by Canadian standards) and even though the race went ahead, I had to make the heartbreaking decision for myself not to run. I didn't want to run the risk of pneumonia, it just wasn't worth it to me...instead I went to a nice juicy Bikram yoga class and had a little cry. You are allowed to grieve for your 'loss', you worked hard for this! Please know, when your time does come...we will all be here cheering for you!! Go Eli!

    ~T

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  14. Is it weird that I've been thinking of you? I am so, so sorry. I get that in the grand scheme of things it's not like losing a home, or God forbid, someone you love, but it is a loss; mostly, I guess, it's a lost opportunity to prove something to yourself. Not sure what it is you need to prove, and maybe thinking about that-- whether it's to prove you have a strength and endurance you didn't have before, or if it's to prove that the power of belief can accomplish amazing things, or any other number of things-- can help you, as Anonymous above me says, grieve. Everyone who reads this blog is proud of you: for your bravery in being so honest, your thoughtfulness, your deranged sense of humor, and your sense of justice. Your friends and family sound like remarkable people; that's a reflection of who you are. That's the core of who you are, and that has not changed; it's just a little beaten down right now, is all. We love you.*Sniff* Shut up, it's DUSTY IN HERE.

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    1. E-Slice, it's dusty in here, too! Are we in the same room?! HOW DOES MY HAIR LOOK?!

      And, thank you.

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  15. I'm sorry that this has happened to you. When I read the post this weekend I said "oh, man, that's terrible news" and when my children asked me what I was reading I said "My friend just posted that the Ironman was cancelled" and then I realized that it may be a little bit creepy to refer to you as a "friend" but I wasn't sure I wanted to say to them "this stranger who has a blog and into whose life I am inexplicably drawn..." so I just pretended to them that you and I were friends, cause my children do not need to know the depth of my own weirdness. So, I'm sorry.

    I also want to just say that we don't need to compare one person's sadness and grief to another's. We all have our own sorrows and it is perfectly okay to be sad about things that aren't the actual end of the world. Whenever I hear someone say something along the lines of 'well, THAT'S not so bad because (fill in the blanks with some other bad thing) is so much worse" I am reminded of a saying "Do not let my sorrows rob you of your own".

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    1. I have the same weirdness! Thank you Eli for letting us into your world and making us feel like such a part of your life.

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  16. Awesomely expressed! I'm sad for you that you weren't able to accomplish your goal before 30, but there are many goals in life that we are unable to realize by the time we'd like to. Settings new goals is how we move on, right. Just say before I'm 31!

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  17. There will be many many stories similar to yours for IM Tahoe. One of the guys in my group had prepared with his best friend as their first Ironman together. Then 5 weeks ago, his best friend was killed in the line of duty. He was racing Tahoe in the memory of his best friend, wearing his buddy's wetsuit, had the body markers put his friend's name on his arm.
    He was also standing in the water waiting for go time. At least he ignored the announcements and did one lap of the swim, couldn't let ALL the prep be for nothing. The disappointment seeped through all of us all day Sunday. It would hit me in waves and I was only doing the 70.3 swim for a relay.
    I looked for you race morning to wish you luck, when I went by your bike you were no where to be found. Sorry to have missed you! The other thing about Tri and IM in particular is that ot
    s greater than than just sense of community, it becomes a sense of family.

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  18. "But when disappointment is fresh and loss is recent, any words of comfort tend to feel like empty platitudes. So I hold onto them and store them away somewhere, hoping that a week or two later when I'm ready to appreciate them, I can recall those words and allow them to give me perspective that I'm not ready to have when that disappointment is fresh and that loss is recent."

    Perfection.

    Here's looking forward to that point when it has all worked out.

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  19. Thank you for posting this. I am still not sure how I found your blog, but you continue to put into words the emotions I am working through. I understand the depths of a loss of a dream that has been put into action, just to disintegrate at the end. It's so hard to keep dreaming, at least for me. Best wishes for your next endeavor! Mandy K :)

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  20. This made me wonder at the worry (ie stress) you must have had when you had the "unnessarily large heart" concern raised. And the relief when the doctor said it was okay. I think after that it would exponentiate (if that's a word) the degree to which you felt this disappointment. Truly feeling for you and all the other strangers posting here that have endured these same types of deprivations at the last minute. Truly heart wrenching for all of us that care about what happens to those around us.

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  21. This is so beautiful.

    "I can see that experience is never wasted if you care for it. That a failure or loss never says anything about your character as long as you don't let it become your destiny. And that the greatest measure of a person's goodness has less to do with what they accomplish and more to do with what they never stop trying to accomplish.

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  22. Just so you know...Dad and I cried too and we are very proud of you!

    XoXoxoxo

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    1. I did too. And we have the best parents ever.

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  23. I'm so sorry! What a huge let down. I have to say, this paragraph stuck out to me the most:

    "But when disappointment is fresh and loss is recent, any words of comfort tend to feel like empty platitudes. So I hold onto them and store them away somewhere, hoping that a week or two later when I'm ready to appreciate them, I can recall those words and allow them to give me perspective that I'm not ready to have when that disappointment is fresh and that loss is recent."

    So, so great for any loss or disappointment. Seriously. I know it's not the same, but when I had a great loss in my life, all the words of comfort seemed empty and I didn't want to hear it. I just wanted people to tell me how much life sucked and that I had every right to be angry for as long as I wanted. But later, the words of comfort were nice to hold onto.

    So for now, this totally sucks for you. You have every right to be mad and sad for as long as you want.

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  24. I shared a quote from this post with my friend whose sister died in an accident last month, she said it was beautiful and she was going to share it with her mom. Thank you for writing words that help people.

    The quote:
    "But when disappointment is fresh and loss is recent, any words of comfort tend to feel like empty platitudes. So I hold onto them and store them away somewhere, hoping that a week or two later when I'm ready to appreciate them, I can recall those words and allow them to give me perspective that I'm not ready to have when that disappointment is fresh and that loss is recent."

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  25. Having been in your shoes with a cancelled ultra race, I fully understand your emotions right now. You deserve time with them, and them with you. But I know you'll take those words of comfort and feel better soon - you will. In the mean time, take that kickass training you've worked so hard to get in and carry it over to another race - quickly. Don't start from ground zero for another IM many months down the road. Tempe, Chattanooga (maybe some others?) ... take that body that's ready to race and get 'er done. Now!! Now is the time. (I found the closest race after mine was cancelled and though it costs me a pretty penny, I went with with a will and determination stronger than ever to finish. And finish I did....far exceeding my wildest dreams!!).

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  27. As someone living vicariously though your Ironman experience, I am extremely sad and disappointed and, if I must admit, a little bit angry for us. This was not the way I was expecting our weekend to go! When are we signing up for the next one?

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