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.
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