Ironman Arizona 140.6 - The Anticipation
Updated: Mar 5
It’s taken me over a month to put my Ironman experience into words because for weeks I didn’t understand my own emotions. My low mental state from training weeks 21 through 29 spiked into excitement a week before the race, but then, in the last 3 days, it crashed into an anxiety that kept me from eating and sleeping. I was a nervous wreck. I was dizzy. And I didn’t have the appetite to carb-load like I knew I needed to. I so badly wanted the whole thing to be over that I skipped 4.5 hours worth of workouts in the last week.
If anyone asked if I felt ready, I answered honestly. Yes, but I’m nervous. Then they’d tell me I trained hard and that I was going to kill it. But that didn’t help because they didn’t understand.
I knew I could do it. I knew I’d trained hard enough to swim 2.4 miles, then bike 112, then run 26.2 consecutively. There was no doubt in my mind. My demons don’t tell me I can’t do it. They say something out of my control is going to take over.
I felt this tremendous pressure to finish and the unknown was crippling me. This wasn’t just my race, it was everyone’s that had rooted for me. Yet I was the only one in control of the outcome. Me and all of those unknowns.
I don’t know how to convey the weight I felt from the sacrifices that my family made just so I could do this thing. Some days I left to swim as soon as Blake got home from work. He'd feed the kids and bathe them and I'd get home just in time to read a bed time story. Then out the door to run. Our days were structured around my workouts six day a week for seven months. All for me. So I could say I'm an Ironman.
And despite all that sacrifice, I found myself near the end of the road feeling so anxious that I needed even more support just to breathe. How was that fair to the people that helped me get there? They deserved to see me elated. But instead I was busy worrying about variables out of my control.
What if the swim is canceled? It wouldn't be a true 140.6. What if I get two rear flat tires? What if I get an ocular migraine? What if I die? Blake's a single dad all because I wanted to say I'm an Ironman?
My mind went there. It wasn't good. But I so badly wanted everyone to feel like this was their accomplishment too, because it was. I couldn't have done it without them. But on race day, the spotlight would be on me. And that pressure was suffocating.
When I get nervous, I say things I shouldn’t. It’s like I lose that filter that separates the good jokes from the bad ones. Case and point: At the athlete check in, I met a very nice man with a prosthetic leg that was going out of his way to ease my nerves until his hand slipped trimming the tail of my wristband. I said “that was close” and he smiled and said “wouldn’t be the first time” and then I looked directly at his prosthetic and asked “oh is that how you got that?”
Yes. Yes I said that.
But this saint of a man laughed it off, pulled up his jacket and revealed a shirt that said:
QUIT PULLING MY LEG! SERIOUSLY… IT WILL COME OFF!
Thank goodness there are people in the world with a sense of humor! Then he told me it was from a drunk driving accident…And that’s when he realized he should quit drinking. And now we’re all joking about things we shouldn’t! Then someone else tells me there’s a 4/10ths of a mile run between the swim exit and T1 tent and that killed the laughter! Because that’s not funny.
That is insane! Why are we calling it a 140.6? Let’s call it what it is: the IMAZ 141!
And the nerves were back in control.
On the way out of the Ironman Village, we signed up Crosley for the Ironkids half mile and it filled her with an energy I was jealous of. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t put her bib number on right then. And why couldn’t she sleep in it? And why did she have to wear a jacket that covered it?
And despite all her excitement, she still slept like a baby while I tossed and turned over a race still two sleeps away.
The next morning, one day before Ironman, it was Crosley’s race day and she was pumped! That is until we got to the parking lot…when she changed her mind and decided she wasn’t doing it.
I can’t say I was surprised, I’m not new to parenting, but cooome oooon Crosley! Your entire race is equivalent to my swim to T1 (yeah, I'm bitter)! But of course I didn’t tell her that because that would make me a bad mom. Instead, Blake promised her ice cream and she was back in.
After her race and still feeling ridiculously nervous, I test rode my bike (sensors were jacked), practiced jogging with eight gels in my jersey pocket (change of plan, eat the course food) and prepped my transition bags.
With a calmer attitude, I returned to the Ironman Village to check my bike and bags into transition in a beautiful metal (or carbon fiber) sea of 2600 bikes. Each one represented a crazy person that worked hard to be there. They had their own challenges and goals and stories. For months I had to explain myself to almost every person I encountered, but not to these people. They understood the pain and the sacrifice.
It was easy to decipher the first timers from the experienced because the veterans looked confident and relaxed. They were smiling and helpful and it made me want to be in their club even more.
At dinner that night, my mom was watching the kids. Blake, my dad, and brother Brent were talking race strategy and best spectating locations. And I sat around, lost in my own anxiety as text messages from friends and family wishing me luck and offering words of encouragement were flooding in. I appreciated every message, but it also made the pressure feel heavier knowing that if I failed, I’d fail in front of an audience.
But then my brother Brandon walked in.
Brandon had been texting me these gems in the previous 48 hours:
Give yourself permission to fail.
Google “obese old Ironman finishers”.
Consider the Ironman race your victory lap after 30 weeks of training.
Believe you’re the predator with the upper hand and this race is the prey that you’ve been stalking for months and the odds are in your favor because you did the work to earn those odds.
You're a beast!
And this particularly bad advice:
If you have trouble with your anxiety...there’s a trick I’ve used for women in my life. Have Blake tell you to “relax”, “calm down”, or “chill out”. I’ve also said “are you about to period? Cuz that would make sense.” It’s like speaking directly to the issue. Counselor talk stuff.
But the one that struck a cord was a text that just said “you’re in control.”
And I probably would have cried if it wasn’t coupled with a Twilight gif of a werewolf springing into action. Thanks for that Brandon.
Ironman stories tend to focus on inspiring brave athletes overcoming physical hurdles and personal triumph, but Brandon understands the less glamorous and less publicized side of the sport. He recognized the pit I was in and I’m forever grateful for the friendship we have that can decipher when to laugh, when to listen, when to encourage, and when to be tough.
He asked how I felt. I’m nervous. He asked why. Because I feel pressure to finish tomorrow, and if I don’t, I’ll let down a lot of people that have sacrificed for me, and I’ll feel like I need to do another one, and I don’t have time to do another one because I've drained my entire support crew and my kids need me right now. Did you train like you wanted to? Yes, I’m confident I’m trained to finish this race. Then why wouldn’t you finish? Because I’m so dizzy, what if I get an ocular migraine? Have you ever gotten one during a workout? No. Then you won’t tomorrow. What if I get two rear flat tires? Someone will toss you a spare. What if I died out there? Pushed myself too hard and ignored the signs just so I could finish? You won’t because you’re ready and in control.
And that was the intuition I was lacking. The understanding without reasoning that I am in control of my attitude and the outcome. Honey, I got this (bitter about losing that bracelet too).
That night, again I couldn’t sleep. So instead, I prayed fervently that I’d have a clear head during the race and kept telling myself I’m in control and it’ll all work out.
My alarm went off at 4am, but with only 4 hours of sleep (and less than 6 each of the three nights before), I chose to snooze for another hour. It was a risky gamble. Get an extra hour of sleep? Or an extra hour to process food before the race.
The alarm went off at 5am. Two hours until the start, and I had a scratchy throat and a tired body, but none of that mattered. 30 weeks of stalking the prey and now was the time to strike.
Immediately I started eating. A bagel and cream cheese, coffee, two granola bars, a Honey Stinger waffle and two bottles of Nuun Endurance. I kept looking at the clock, second guessing my gamble. I was shaking from nerves. I thought I might throw up because the last thing I wanted was food but I had to force it down anyways.
Once at transition, everything was exciting! There was loud upbeat music, people literally jumping into wetsuits, and everyone wishing each other good luck.
Also there were long lines outside the port-a-potties, and no way they’d all get a chance to squat before the start. I ran outside the transition area to a dark corner and found a row of empty potties to spend some time in with little success. The gamble I’d made earlier was turning out to be riskier than I’d anticipated.
I said screw it! And rushed to the swim start. The ground was cold and rocky on my bare feet. The national anthem was playing and a stranger scraped the top of my foot with their shoe. It hurt and I actually wondered if it would affect my run. I rubbed shoulders with someone and it was Darren Smith! Then a minute later it was Jeff Lyon! Insane. Thousands of people and I see a few friends.
I found a spot in line right as the gun was fired.
Thinking I had about 5 minutes to start, I relieved myself so that the water wouldn’t feel so cold (don’t judge me, lots of triathletes do it!) but as the line started to move, the man directly in front of me did not.
I’m standing in a wet puddle of my own urine and wondering if this guy is ever going to start moving! Then I make eye contact with another athlete sitting down about 10 feet from me and he looks at the puddle like yeah, I know what you did... so I push around the tall guy and make my way to the start. Sooner I’m in the water, sooner I’m across the finish line!
I get to the front of the line and Mike Reilly is standing right next to me with his hand out for a high five. I grabbed it and held on for a second before entering the swim stall. My toes entered the water. I stood next to five people waiting for the volunteer’s signal. I looked at them and said “here we go, just don’t stop moving forward.” He lowered his hand and with that first step, the nerves completely dissipated.