Gritty Ain't Always Pretty
Yesterday I raced Ironman Wisconsin. I’ll have a full race report up soon (along with a new vlog chronicling the journey from Wisconsin to Ironman Louisville in 5 short weeks). But today is Monday, and Monday means newsletter day so here we go!
Yesterday was a great day. One of the traditions at the high school I coach at is to write a word or mantra on your arm to focus on during the race. I happen to really like this idea, so I wrote the word “execute” on my arm. I’m not the most patient athlete in the world and I tend to push my limits more often than not. But yesterday, I just wanted to execute the plan.
And I did. The swim was a little slower, but also a lot choppier water, than anticipated. I raced it exactly the way I wanted to and got out of the water feeling fresh. The bike I split 210w the whole way. Only on stretches where there was a lot of hills did I split over that, and I made up for it by coasting on the downhills. I was even under my target of 5:30, averaging 20.55mph on a hard course. I got all my nutrition in, even when I didn’t feel like it at the start. I got off the bike feeling better than I ever had before even in a 70.3 or brick workout. I was deliberately holding back running 7:10-7:20 miles for the first 7 miles and feeling great…well my legs were feeling great. My stomach wasn’t feeling the best after the 4th mile…and after a turn around mile 7ish, all of a sudden it felt like someone inflated a balloon in my stomach. I spent the remainder of the run either in or in search of a bathroom. GI distress isn’t a strong enough word, it was more like GI destruction.
After only a few miles of this walk/jog/shuffle/bathroom thing I was doing, it was clear that I wasn’t going to have the day I knew I was capable of. It was extremely frustrating because I had executed the plan. I was ready for a great day. My legs still felt great, I just couldn’t run 10 steps without seriously needing a bathroom.
To be honest, I’m not sure what happened. Maybe the chop of the water or taking in a little too much lake water during the swim churned my stomach, maybe I ate some bad food the night before, or maybe the nerves of race day affected me more than I anticipated. The tough part is that this is the same nutrition plan that has been spot on for all my hardest and longest workouts.
That part might remain a mystery, but it’s not the point I’m trying to make. Our motto for the cross country team this year is “Gritty Aint Pretty”. Once my goal was thrown out the window I had to ask myself why I’m still doing this. I have Ironman Louisville in 5 weeks, it would have been easier (and smarter) to throw in the towel and DNF. But thankfully I did a lot of work on my “Why” last year and have been working to align all my actions with it since. My why goes as follows: “to ignite people’s imaginations about what is possible so that they can strive to reach their potential and inspire others around them to do the same.” A DNF might have been smarter, but it inspires no one and doesn't challenge what was possible for me. Being gritty in the face of defeat on the other hand, might. After a mile or so of wallowing in my own sorrow I tried to turn my attention towards others and tell them how good or strong they looked as they passed. It sucked to be in that position, but another mantra I have is “embrace the suck”. Most of the time I associate that with the pain of pushing hard, but yesterday it meant that pain of not being able to push at all.
After a 5th stop at a bathroom and with only 4 miles to go I told myself I can do anything for 4 miles and tried to resume running again. My stomach hurt, but my ego hurt worse. As I got closer to the finish line, I decided to give it everything I had just to see if it really was all my stomach or if maybe my legs were tired too. My last mile was under 6:30…there was definitely a massive PR day in store. But that’s the fun of the sport. It’s too extreme not to be a mystery every single race. Even with perfect execution, things might go south. Either way, I know I’m mentally tougher after crossing that finish line than I was before and can’t wait to toe the line in Louisville.