I Can't Feel My Face.
(Quitting a job and racing Ironman Coeur d'Alene)
“I Can’t Feel My Face".
I’ve been saying this a lot lately (and not in the adult binge drinking sense). After I officially resigned from my job in finance a couple weeks ago, I felt so flushed…it was as if my face had completely separated from my body. I was scared as hell. I knew I was walking away from what could have very easily (key word here) been my well-paying, stable job for the rest of my professional life. Was I being selfish? Irresponsible? Immature? I didn't have a clear answer to these questions for a while. But now, I will not answer “yes” or even “maybe” to any of these questions. Here’s why….I’ve been thinking about doing this for 5 years. It’s safe to say I’ve thought it through and ran it by the people who matter most in my life. They’re on board and they’re going to help me build this bad boy (a boutique fitness/cycling gym). Building a business will undoubtedly be difficult, as forging a new path tends to be less obvious, less prescriptive, and absolutely less reliable. Is it too risky?
The consideration of risk has been like a dysfunctional stop light in my head. Sometimes it’s a loud “GO!” then (literally hours later) it will start flashing “NO NO NO, STOP!” and then later that day I’ll see another “GO FOR IT!” sign, directly followed by a yellow “ok, just slooowww down and think about this” signal. I was finally able to shut all of this down once I started thinking about the risks associated with staying in a profession that did not feel purposeful. What might happen? Well, I’d become miserable, bitchy and bitter. This would not lead to being the best partner, friend, daughter, sister and professional I could be. So the decision was made and I have yet to feel one ounce of regret (I’m sure we’ll revisit this later). That said - I still can't quite believe I actually pulled the trigger and left work, it's very surreal.
The next few instances that warranted the phrase “I can’t feel my face” came before and during Ironman Coeur d’Alene this past Sunday. It was my first full Ironman. Aside from the stress of constantly training - and feeling like you’re never training enough (or sleeping enough) - the most difficult part was managing my own expectations.
In the week leading up to the race, my mind would randomly just take off in a certain “what if” direction and I’d eagerly follow along. It was usually “what if I hyperventilate in the water and get pulled out?” or “what if I have to walk the marathon?” or “what if I surprise everyone and absolutely crush it?” But usually it was more like, “what if I’m a complete idiot and go too hard on the bike, don’t eat enough and absolutely die on the run?” After hashing these scenarios out on my head, I would quickly run to the bathroom because you know….nerves. I had to go, real bad.
During these anxious moments, I couldn’t feel my face. It was hard to believe that I was really about to race an Ironman. What made these situations extra stressful is that I had very high expectations of myself. I expected to step up, execute and be competitive in my age group. This, coupled with some intense doubt, made for some numbing moments. Then, right before I started the swim at 6:50am on Sunday, Chris gave me the most sensational hug. I just melted into his arms and couldn’t let go….I teared up because I could feel how much he cared and how supportive he was and it meant more than I can possibly articulate….but I knew, once again…that I couldn’t really feel my face.
Three minutes into the swim, I began to settle in to what would be a big day. It was a very choppy morning on the lake and I was so, so, SO freaking nervous. But after a few swift kicks to the face (thanks big huge man who was in front of me, you have massive heels) and getting into a rhythm, I felt confident that I would be able to get through the swim no problem. Here’s the thing, I am land animal so my swim time is abysmal, but I was very happy with it….I swam a 1:24 and was absolutely pumped to be on my bike (a matte black Cannondale Slice, we call her “Cool Whip”). At the transition, there were these amazing volunteers who made you lie down and they would strip your wetsuit off as it they had magical powers, it was so funny. I was actually laughing out loud…like, “stop it, you guys. buy me a drink first”. Anyway, apparently one poor girl was wearing a sports bra and thong under her wetsuit…hopefully she didn’t bike in that?
Swim - 1:24
Then onto the bike…..you guys, it was so fun and I felt proud to be representing the Olympic Club. I had a smile on my face almost the entire ride, and that’s saying something because it was maddeningly windy. This is the point in the race when being a weak swimmer isn't actually so bad, because you just pick people off one by one. I tried to keep track of the other females in my AG as I passed them, but it was tough and I was trying to stick with racing my own race. Stuck to my nutrition plan (except for one dropped water bottle), had a quick bathroom break at mile 90 and was back at it. Felt my face the whole time.
Bike - 6:00
Let me tell you how happy my little tush was to be off that bike! It was like letting a dog out of a kennel after he’d been in there for hours and he just runs around in circles like he’s crazy….that’s kind of what I looked like in transition. But, once I settled into the first couple miles of the run I was really nervous again. I’m used to feeling like a champ off the bike (and usually running way too fast), but this time I felt sluggish and sore and my arms felt like they were about to fall off. Hitting mile 3 and realizing you still have 23.2 more miles to go was another face numbing moment for me. I couldn’t quite grasp it and I knew I wouldn’t be running my current 7:53 pace for the whole run, which is slightly deflating - but you have to be honest with yourself. The spectators along the run were simply the best. Such huge supporters, cheering for every single person that ran by, no matter how fast he or she was running (or walking). I saw my family and Chris so many times along the way and each time I felt my lip quiver just a little as I fought hard to hold back tears. Then, just past mile 25 (and after a few uncomfortable pit stops), Chris told me I was in 4th place in my age group! I think I spoke in English back to him? Something along the lines of “what?!” and he just told me to keep it steady all the way into the finish…..so I did.
Run - 3:51
Total time - 11:24 (4th place, F25-29)
In no way am I exaggerating when I write this….running down the final stretch was absolutely one of the best feelings in my entire life. I was running at what felt like a full sprint (was probably an 8min mile?) and smiling and crying and giving high fives and reflecting on the last 6 months of my life and it was unreal. Nothing else mattered, nothing else even existed…just this overwhelming culmination of adrenaline, sweat, tears and elation. Then, I hugged a handful of volunteers (complete strangers) because they were right next to me and found my crew. They were all I wanted in that instant, just there to smile and hug me and make smart ass remarks. It was perfect. They couldn’t have been a better support crew. At the finish, I felt everything, every single ache and pain and tear streaming down my face, because I could finally believe it. It wasn't another moment of "wow, is this real? is this truly reality? did I just do that?" I could actually believe it was happening, because I made it happen.
This much I know to be true... I'm really happy to be feeling my face again, I earned it.
Who is Caroline?
A Colorado native living in San Francisco. Running, riding, swimming, career pivoting....and putting most of it on record.