Almost 2 months later, and finally....I've gathered some thoughts.
Kona '16 brought me to my knees. It brought me to the med tent for the first time ever. It brought me to some dark places, and it resulted in my slowest marathon ever. But, it also brought me closer to this sport than ever before.
My version of the race isn't that interesting: I got kicked in the head during the swim and survived the rest of the day with a concussion - feeling very nauseous, sleepy and dizzy. Rather than a race report, I interviewed Chris to get his perspective, check it out.
Total Time: 11:21
I've been reading Royal Robbins' autobiography (vol. 1), "To Be Brave". (You should too). Royal is one of the most prominent American rock climbers of all time. He is a purist who is incredibly introspective and obsessed with understanding why he does what he does. His book has helped me make sense of triathlon. I think his book even helped me finish Kona, especially this:
"Man is never more human
than when he is reaching for
something beyond his grasp."
There it is, my Kona lesson. A disappointing race brings a broader perspective to success. I don't obsess over race results, never have. Instead, I am focused on realizing my potential. And while I think I have a long way to go, Kona sure as hell reinforced my need to always be reaching.
And most importantly THANK YOU...
- The Olympic Club. For supporting my transition from the soccer team to the triathlon team, and for bringing so many of my dearest friends and training buddies into my life.
- POC Sports. Thanks for keeping me safe and making me look slick along the way. As I always say, you guys rock.
- Easton Cycling. You took a chance on a random girl in Mill Valley who promised she would ride her ass off for you, and that's exactly what I've done. Your Aero55 wheels are my favorite piece of equipment, by far. Love you guys.
- Soas Racing. Steph, the founder, and I met a few years ago at Oceanside when I told her I appreciate everything she does for females in triathlon and we've been buds ever since. She made a custom Kona kit for me with 10 days notice and it was fucking awesome. I'm sorry I couldn't didn't do it justice, next time ;)
- Christopher. Thank you for showing me how much you care, I feel it everyday. You somehow manage to be everything I need: honest and supportive, but also tough. Love.
- Family. This includes friends. So many of you have showed up to races to cheer, supported from afar, and always put up with ridiculous training schedules. I love you for this - thanks x100. The #unbelievable squad. The #morecore Kona crew. The #hallwayshenanigans team. My #burritos. Mom. Dad. Margaret. Scott. Thank you.
- purplepatch Fitness. Matt reluctantly agreed to coach me in 2015 and I'm sure has regretted it since, but I appreciate every morsel of knowledge and feedback you've given me. Thanks.
- Chipotle. Because Chris and I would die without you.
The Slow Lane. (IM Canada, etc.)
(Almost) Every Tuesday and Thursday, I swim with Matt Dixon and his Purple Patch crew. Practice starts promptly at 5:37am and the rules are simple: no excuses, don’t be a baby, and keep up with Angus. (I suppose these are self-imposed rules, but I think Matt would agree.)
To give you a visual, there are 5 lanes in the pool. Lane 1 is the fastest lane where pros and ex-D1 swimmers exist – a foreign place I hope to visit one day. Lane 5 is the slowest lane, with all speeds in between. For the past 6 months, I’ve survived in lane 4…. which is officially the “slow” lane. I’ve built a lot of character in that lane; I think I even built some friendships. But mostly, I’ve built this incredibly honest relationship with myself – with my improvements, my setbacks, my occasionally shitty attitude, and most importantly….my potential. Before I joined Matt’s practices, I had almost fully surrendered to the fact that I would never be a decent swimmer. I deeply believed improvement wasn’t a possibility and I would indefinitely suck. But I was delusional, and luckily, the slow lane kept me honest.
Every week, the slow lane reminded me that I had something to tap into - that there was progress to be made. But as I always remind myself, it doesn’t just happen to you. There is nothing to tap into if you stay stagnant. If you want to continue believing whatever story you’re telling yourself, then don’t get in the pool. But if you want to familiarize yourself with the truth – the struggle, the discomfort, the doubt, the pain, the gain – then get your ass in the slow lane and see what you’re made of.
So I did. And I continue to. Sometimes I’m in the medium lane, and sometimes Matt demotes me back down to the slow lane (because, well….I’m slow) but we’re in it. We’re doing it. Or as my dear friend Maxie McCoy says “we’re being it.”
All of this got me to the starting line at Ironman Canada back in July. I wanted revenge after a very disappointing race at IM Texas back in May. Canada was exactly what I needed, it was my breakthrough race. In short, it was a day of PRs: an overall best, my fastest swim and a run to be proud of. I qualified for Kona and was the fastest overall amateur on a tough day with brutally wet/cold conditions. And I have the slow lane to thank. Here are my times:
Swim – 1:15
Bike – 5:38
Run – 3:35
Total – 10:46
Chris had an amazing race in Whistler as well, (2nd amateur), so we both qualified for Kona. But before Kona, we had a lot of change coming our way. I had finally stopped working for a company I did not believe in, and on our way back from Whistler, I accepted a job at an amazing startup, Glassdoor. Then we adopted a puppy, Ridley. Then Chris accepted a job offer at an exciting investment firm, then we got married, and IT HAS BEEN A DREAM. It’s been crazy, and hectic and exhausting, but I guess that’s how we roll.
So here’s to racing Kona with my incredible husband, and if/when I feel the doubt creep in during the race, I’ll handle it more honestly and maturely - thanks to the slow lane.
Fear and Toughness.
Time for a long overdue recap of my recent races. There have been some tough ones. But, I’ve finally realized that I too, am tough.
2014 ended on a high note, with a strong showing at the North Face 50k. I finished 6th OA, and 1st in my AG with a time of 5:01. It was a no joke course on a slippery, and muddy day. I hope to do some version of that race every year…one day, the 50mile.
If there is a theme for this year, it’s the underlying equilibrium I’ve been trying to find between fear and toughness. Too much fear and you’re paralyzed. Too much toughness, you make assumptions, and ultimately, mistakes. Not enough toughness and you’re doubtful. Not enough fear - well, I’ve learned that a little always helps.
First up, Puerto Rico 70.3. I finished 3rd in my AG (5:09), which sadly included a 5min bike penalty. My sister joined me for this trip, and it meant more to me than I can do justice with words. I know her presence helped me feel stronger and race harder.
I wasn’t nervous enough about this race, and this was my first mistake. I completely overlooked the swim, which is usually very nerve wracking for me, and that led to an extremely lackluster swim. My next mistake became apparent on the bike. I hadn’t read the drafting rules. This is because I would never, ever try to gain an unfair advantage over other competitors. (This is not to say I don’t think the rules apply to me, but more so that I never thought I would be in a position where the rules mattered.) My age group was the first into the water after the pros, which means we were caught by the older (fast) men. This is when it gets complicated. I took longer than 15 seconds to pass a male rider (who did not like the idea of me passing him, so began surging) and technically, you’re not allowed to ride to the side of someone else in Ironman events. So, add 5 minutes to my ride time, which meant I rode a little angry…..read: hard.
Onto the run. I kept it steady and smart and was proud of my result….rather than dwelling on a mistake I made on the bike, I stayed focused. I simply sucked it up, caught some girls on the run, and just kept thinking about hugging my sister at the finish line. In retrospect, the outcome of this race came down to pure toughness. I found no balance out there. It was a grind date. I lacked enough fear to properly prepare, mentally, for the swim. Yet I had the grit to trudge on, hang tough and keep a steady mind. Had I been more fearful of the swim, I would be been more prepared. Had I been a little more nervous about breaking rules during a race, perhaps I would have read them first and avoided a(n arguably ridiculous) penalty.
All in all, this race reminded me of two simple things a close friend always says, that is, “Don’t be a victim. Nobody cares.” In triathlon, time is the apathetic master of everything. Time doesn’t care whether you read the rules or not, or if you had a stressful week at work, or blah blah blah, it. just. goes. on. So don’t dwell, and just do your best keep up with the clock. And oh, stop complaining because nobody cares.
Mid-April brought a stretch of back-to-back race weekends. First up, Napa Hits 70.3. I had heard this race was really challenging, so it was a perfect training race - don’t over think it, don’t worry too much about time, and learn a few lessons. I did exactly that. With about 4,000 ft of climbing on the bike and over 1,000 ft on the run, I knew enough to be nervous and to respect the course…but at the same time, Puerto Rico was still fresh in my mind, and my toughness edge had been sharpened. It was prime time to race. I swam decently, and then rode/ran my way into 2nd OA, and learned that even when you’re cold, you need to force yourself to take in plenty of calories!
I woke up the next day and decided to race the Presidio 10mile race (5th OA). This was all guts, very little brains. Just run, push hard, hurt a lot. This fitness carried me right into a fantastic day at the Boston Marathon the next weekend with a 3:09 marathon. And then, I lost the balance again. Too exhausted to feel tough, and overly fearful that I had dug myself into such a deep hole that I might not bounce back in time for Ironman Texas. But here I am, recovered from a nasty cold, and sharpened up for Texas on May 16th.
Right now, my balance between fearful and tough-as-nails feels right. My fear keeps me grounded in my inability to stop thinking about the race…my concerns over what is out of my control, what I haven’t thought of, what might disappoint me. Yet, I’m so pumped. When I think about this race, my limbs go numb and my mind clears. It’s a challenge I can’t wait to confront. But toughness alone is not enough. Fear alone will crush you. Yet when they complement one another, there is a system of checks and balances in place, and then you realize…you can’t have one without the other, and a blend of both makes you a better athlete.
So bring it on, Ironman Texas - you scare the shit out of me.
WHY ENDURANCE MATTERS
As rational beings, we embrace the struggle to endure. We have to. In life, what other choice is there? In sports, we choose to push our endurance beyond knowable limits. These two types of enduring feel different, but are deeply intertwined. Endurance sports force you to encounter fear every single time you choose to lace up. There really is no telling what might happen when you decide to push yourself during a long run (or ride, swim, whatever it might be). But what happens when you do it over and over again? When you simply wake up and live through each day? You make mistakes, you feel nervous, you face things you’ve never experienced before, and you just get through it. Your current level of comfort expands and you soon reach a new concept of normalcy...You must endure the discomfort in order to get from one side of fear to the other.
Roz Savage discussed fear and comfort zones on an NPR podcast recently and it truly stuck with me. Roz left her consulting job years ago to pursue something more meaningful to her. That “something” happened to be rowing across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, all by herself….in a 23 foot boat. While I can in no way identify with the desire to row for hundreds of days at a time in the open ocean, I can absolutely relate to re-defining your own version of fear, and enduring the necessary gritty repetition to achieve that. After being asked if she is “fearless”, Roz responds by saying (paraphrased): “I was terrified for the first two weeks on the ocean. I had no confidence in the boat or myself. But after some time, I learned a few things about fear. Namely, there is a limit on how long you can be afraid for…after a couple weeks of being completely terrified, you sort of get used to it and your comfort zone expands to accommodate your new normalcy.”
THERE IT IS. This right here is why endurance matters. If Roz couldn’t get through those first two weeks, she would have never blasted through her self-defined comfort zone. We all know that facing our fears is often good for us, but I’m not sure enough emphasis is placed on just doing it over and over again until you’re beyond it (the fear). Doing something once, for a fleeting moment, seldom rearranges your psychological approach to a fear. In fact, it may even confirm your unfounded bias against the thing you fear. Instead, I say do it again. And then again. And then keep doing it until you realize there is a “beyond”. That is endurance.
This weekend I’ll be racing in the 50K North Face Endurance Challenge. I’m scared shitless. But I know enough and have faced this fear just enough times to have some excitement as well. I’m sure it will be muddy, messy and sloppy thanks to all the much needed moisture we have had this week and I say bring it on….It is time for a new normal.
IM Lake Tahoe & 7 Questions
Who is Caroline?
A Colorado native living in San Francisco. Running, riding, swimming, career pivoting....and putting most of it on record.