Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Return to Ironman Hawaii...

The last three years have delicately shown me that taking a chance is winning the battle against your fears. The truth is, no matter the outcome, it is always worth the risk.  

In the case of triathlon...
It took 3 years and nearly a dozen Ironmans to return to The World Championships. All together it has been nothing short of an amazing journey that I will remember forever.  Triathlon has definitely shaped me, changed me, and provided for me in ways never expected.  It has taken me to sunsets in New Zealand, burritoes in Mexico, snow in Canada, beautiful dancing in the Philippines, and has gifted me with many new friendships that will forever be special to me...

The last season especially, has given me wings & courage in sport where I once felt sidelined.  I've always felt like the rookie despite having had the pro-card for a few years.  It was difficult to be known for anything other than, "That one time I raced the World Championships as an amateur and set the record." Not qualifying for Hawaii over and over and over again never helped with the situation, the sponsorship, or my confidence.  But it did develope my courage and ability to work hard despite the circumstances.  It also helped beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had Masuda backing my every move and Coach Cotter quiding my every move.  Most days, they gave me strength. Most races, they gave me motivation. Always, it was what I believed worked for me.  And so, this season has become the best season of my career.

Ironman Mexico, 5th.  Ironman New Zealand, 4th.  Ironman Texas, 4th.  Hawaii 70.3, 2nd. Ironman Whistler, 1st.  We silenced the voices that kept saying I could not. That I would not.  And I learned to believe.  And with every race we kept getting stronger, faster, and more confident.  Add that up and we finally landed back into the World Championships.  To be on the start line with 35 of the fastest women in the world was an honor and a gift.  And the most beautiful part of it all, I believe the best is still yet to come...

Friday finally arrived, the day before is always my favorite day.  Once we check in our bags and bike it feels as if the moment we have been commiting to has finally allowed us to catch our breath and begin what we set out to do.  All the work has been done, details have been checked off, and breathing it all in is the easy part.  This Friday had just one difference that the last 3 years of Ironman racing held.  No prerace pep talks with Masuda.  No secrets just for me. And of course my run shoes that I checked in without his name.  Ugh.  But I was doing so much better, feeling as if my broken heart was beating again, and I felt as if making it through the Ironman without him would somehow be a gentle reminder that I would make it on my own in the other places of my life that he took up. 

Every Friday before the race I eat the biggest subway I can stomach.  So I went there, grabbed the goods, and followed the routine I've done every Ironman before.  This time it was better though, Masuda just happened to have been on my plan and beat me to Subway to buy my Subway.  He was always so good at prerace support in the way of little things that made me feel like a princess. I had no clue I'd see him, we really haven't seen or spoken to each other much (or at all) since.  It ended up being nothing but laughter, happiness, and perhaps the closure I needed heading into the race.  To know I'd have a friend out there that once knew my race plans and goals more than me felt almost like an accountability partner for the 140.6 miles.  Keeping me in check, because he had to read the numbers I wrote on the bathroom mirror every single day.  And there I had it...Masuda was my friend.  I maybe cried for a moment, it's that risk thing I'm talking about.  When you take it, no matter the outcome, you are always glad you did.  Back to the Ironman...

Race morning finally arrived and it felt exactly like every other morning of my life.  Off to the pier with Wendy, for a swim.  I warmed up, swam to the seawall to see Coach Steve, swam to the canoes to see my paddling friends who were helping guide the race, swam to all the volunteers on boards, most of them my friends, and I just let myself feel as if it was a regular day in my life despite being surrounded by the fastest women in the entire world.  When you are on the stage or in the arena of the biggest day in your sport you can't help but feel some sense of pride and a bit of being humbled.  I needed to keep busy focusing on all the things that are familiar to me.  

The cannon finally went off and I felt amazing from the get-go.  It was my favorite swim conditions, warm, salty, fishy, wavey.  Hearing the crowd roars as we came to the swim finish had my heart pounding, there is something special about racing in the World Championships that you just don't find in any other race.   When I got out of the water I heard them calling names of women I have never swam with, I knew my swim must have been a keeper.  

Once to the bikes I discovered only a few were gone and surprisingly a few women's bikes who I've never out swam were still racked.  It was perhaps the swim of my career or maybe having everything to do with knowing the swim conditions so well.  Either way, I was in a good position to start the race.  My goal, as you maybe knew, was top 10.  Onto the bike and instantly I was alone.  The few women who beat me out of the water were already gone.  I rode the first 47 miles of the race alone.  Usually I'm not a big fan of that, but being a big deal of a race where it seems the unexpected always happens amongst the field, I knew it would help me stick to my goals and focus on my riding.  The chase pack finally caught me, it was pretty beautiful actually.  Like a fine line of speed and determination.  They had the draft buster with them so it was also a very honest line, I hooked to the end of it but felt nothing but fear.  I've never been good at riding with others out of fear of a penalty.  My first ever penalty was for passing on the right.  My second one was for staggering.  And i've been too scared ever since to ride near other girls.  Eventually being at the back and way at the back so you are far, far, far from the 12 meter rule, you get left. 

I learned a really good lesson in all of it.  If you ride alone you lose valuable momentum and motivation. That said, the race is somewhat of a game and you have to play it.  I know I need to learn how to ride near other girls, for the mile or two that I kept near them it felt like I was part of the race, not chasing the race.  That may be one of the two biggest take-aways I will keep from the race for future racing.  

The rest of the ride was more of the same, me alone back to town.  It did feel pretty awesome to know I can finally ride 112 miles strong, by myself, nail nutrition, and nail pacing.  The rest coach and me have some work to do.  

Onto the run, the part of the day I was most eager for.  I waited 3ys to race on Ali'i Drive, to run along the Queen K with the best people in the world and to finally put together a solid marathon at home.  I went on pretty smooth, held pretty smooth, and felt good for the first 10 miles.  Once up Palani I was settling into my rhythm and finding my focus.  The one where you block out the crowds and just get the job done.  By mile 14 I had run my way from 18th to 12th.  I was feeling pretty good and soaking up each and every minute of my return to this race.  About this time I found out another woman was roughly 38 seconds up and 2 minutes up was 10th place.  You'd think I would have just kept my pace and patience, but i didn't.  

I put my head down and ran as hard as I could.  It works really well for some girls.  Not for me.  I landed in a ditch.  Literally curled over in my gut like the wind was knocked out of me.  There was no way I would end my day like that, if sport has taught me anything it was that 99.9% of the time it is our heads being lazy, weak, or just plain wrong.  The other percent was an actual physical problem.  It felt like an actual problem because even taking a step forward hurt, but if by chance it was my head I had to find out.  So I put ice on the muscle just below my rib on the right side and started to run easy.  It never went away but it got manageable. 

A few women passed me during my moment of misery. About mile 24 I was about to pass back a couple.  One of them I got at the bottom of Palani.  I'm thinking the hill helped me, being heavier than Leanda I had a little advantage rolling down the hill.  Heather W. was just up the road and I wanted her too.  I put my head down one more time knowing that it would be worth it to catch up one more girl. My mile 26 was a 5:28 mile trying to get her.  She put up such a good fight to stay ahead.  I didn't make top 10, but I landed a great race.  9:34, 16th fastest girl in the world, and a reminder that it's okay to take a chance.  I played the "what if" game, like would I have landed top 10 if I would have stayed my pace and not ran myself into a ditch? Part of me thinks it would have been more likely than my other approach that gave me 3:16 marathon, not exactly competitive for a top 10. But having found a second gear near the end of the race helps me to believe that the speed is there, I just have to figure out when to use it...and mile 14 maybe wasn't the best time.  

That was that.  A day I will remember for many, many years to come.  It is always refreshing to finish an Ironman.  But also a little sad.  I truly loved this journey, the friends I got to train and share it with, learning to breathe again, and just being part of something that I find so much joy in.  As for now, I am on holiday.  Of course I wanted to return to Ironman Mexico in November, but 5 Ironmans in a season is good for me.  My body could use a break, I've got my life heading in a new direction, and I was able to pick up some points for next season by landing 16th.  So...rest.  

My first biggest thanks goes to my family and friends.  It never felt like I was alone in any of this, what a wonderful thing to share life, love, and sport with such amazing people.  Wendy, Veeks, and Staci for being the call I can make anytime day or night.  Brooke and Nick for always helping with Kainoa so I could train and letting me stay with you the last couple weeks.  Masuda, it would take up 3 pages to thank you for everything, maybe more.  But I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being brave enough to be my best friend for the last few years, perhaps I raced the Ironman but "we did it", thank you for believing in me. My training partners for never being soft with me and reminding me how lucky we are to have the ability to do this and the health, too!  I will never forget a single mile we shared or joke we laughed at over the season, xo.

My sponsors:  Bike Works & Splish, you were my very first support in 2007 when it all began for me and you are still here!  You are my family!  My bike caretakers and my sexy swim suit makers!  Ceepo Bikes, you took a chance on me & have believed with me every single race.  Thank you giving me wheels to make it all happen.  Zoot Sports, you were the first run shoe I ever ran in, so long ago.  It is no surprise I found my way back to the best.  Thank you for giving me everything I need to run and race in, train and play in all season long!  Bioastin Hawaii, you are my little green energy ball!  To train, be a mom, teach, and live life all to the fullest would be so much more challenging without you helping my body recover and stay healthy, THANK YOU!  Odin, hands down the best chiro/ART ever.  I feel like Humpty Dumpty when I visit, you always put me back together.  Junko, thank you for all the massages this season, you are my favorite healer with those precious hands of yours!  Denice, you have been there from the start with your little herbs, needles, and words of wisdom, thank you for looking after me like only a mom can do.  Rolf Prima Wheels, thank you for keeping me rolling, they are amazing in the winds of Kona!! Coach Steve & Kona Aquactics, seriously the pool and you remind me of the bar on Cheers!  It is nothing but fun and everybody does know you name, what a great family.  And last but not least, Coach Cotter, you have been the feather that has helped me believe I can fly, like Dumbo.  I was about to hand in my pro-card before you came along and taught me to keep believing in my goals and myself.  Thank you for guiding me along in this sport and helping make dreams a reality.  I am so excited for 2015!

As for now, back to reality.  It really has been surreal racing at home again and I'd be lying if I said I'm not already thinking about qualifying for next season.  Hmmm... I'll just work on ridding my horrible tan lines and robbing the neighbors trees for fruits till January.  Thank you to those that read this blog for the cheers as well, it has been pretty fun reading the notes and having the encouragement from countries I could only dream of visiting and also those right next door.  

Bree xo 

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