“In order to succeed, you must first be willing to fail.”
For the last few months I have been discussing my training leading up to my first Ironman triathlon. The race took place this past sunday 8/25 down in Louisville Kentucky. Through my training I have learned a lot about nutrition and physiology, beyond what I had already known as a result of coaching. I ended some relationships, and forged new ones (my bike and I are very intimate now) I pushed myself in workouts and in ways that I have not experienced in a very long time. I took a holistic look at my life and geared everything towards this one goal; a spectacular Iron Man finish.
For the race I decided to fore go the wet suit and the tri top for this event to cut down on drag and arm pit chaffing. The race started at 7 am with the first swimmers entering the water at that time. However about 2500 people back I was waiting in slowly slithering snake of green swim caps sliding its way through the early morning light toward the water. I watched as hundreds of swimmers splashed by on their way to their destination 2.4 miles away.
When I finally hit the water I was more than ready and I was excited to prove to myself how far I had come in my training and how much I had over come to get to this point in the past several months and years. From the doctors telling me that I wouldn’t be able to train for distance events, or the girlfriends that told me I was wasting my time and that it was stupid. This was my moment, I eased along through the water passing hundreds of people along the way, picking my way through the teaming masses with ease. As I approached the exit I thought to myself, for the second open water swim of the season, and the longest open water swim of your life, that was actually very easy.
At the exit it was crowded and mobbed with people trying to figure out how to get up the steel stairs that had been dropped in the water that were clogged with swimmers and volunteers plucking swimmers out of the water. I made my to the changing tent after getting my bike gear bag from the nice lady at the transition area and moved quickly onto the bike.
The next 5:46:00 are ones that I will not forget for a very long time. I was cruising right along around 20-21 miles/hour for the first 20 miles, and it felt so easy, I kept telling myself to slow down but I couldn’t go any slower. Mile 20-30 included some decent climbing so my pace dropped but not by much. I just kept passing more and more people, and I kept going all the way to mile 60 when we started our second loop. I kept telling myself that I still had 52 miles to go and I should take it easy, so I relaxed but for some reason just seemed to go faster, it was at this point that I started to wonder if I could really keep this up and started to feel some self doubt creeping in. But I thought of a quote I had read in college while studying a specific soccer coach “In order to succeed, you must first be willing to fail.” My mind was made up, I was going for it. I wasn’t going to drop back to 16 mph to play it safe and go for a finish, I wanted it, and I was willing to put everything on the line for it.
Around mile 70 we rode through La Grange a small historic village and I saw my parents among the blurr of faces in the crowd, don’t ask how I saw them I wasn’t even looking for them to be honest I thought they were out having a lunch date or exploring Kentucky. My father let out a cheer, it was incredible to feel that difference when someone you know, someone who cares about you is there supporting you and cheering you on. It really is a great feeling.
Somewhere between mile 70 and 80 Mr. Sun decided to show up to the party. At this point the temperature was a warm, humid 80 degrees or so. I later heard that when the sun came out (about this time) the temp quickly spiked to 96, hot……and humid. Training in upstate New York had not prepared me for such conditions, After all the average temp for the last 4 weeks was probably 73 degrees.
At mile 90 I felt the familiar hatred of all things bicycle pounce on me like a Mountain Lion onto a piglet. I kept telling myself to just get through it and get off the bike. Around mile 105 I looked down and saw my pace had dropped to about 17 mph, But I got it done.
The transition area took a bit longer this time, my legs were cramping at every time I tried to put my shoes on my legs would lock up and I would almost fall out of the chair. So by the time I had completed the swim, t1, bike and t2 I was at almost exactly 7 hours. My ultimate goal being a total time of 10:45. This left me a whole 3:45 minutes to finish the marathon, I can do this in my sleep! I thought. I was just going to ease into it and slowly get up to pace while working out these cramps.
I trotted off and began the final leg of my journey, at least I thought it was the final leg. I was running when suddenly I couldn’t breath, I mean not short of breath, not racing heart rate, but no matter how hard I “pulled” in no air would go into my lungs. Surprisingly calmly looking back on it, I slowed down and was able to get a breath or two in before it happened again, after which I stopped and started walking, which this time did not help much and I started to black out.
Now forced to stand still on the side of the baking road way with my hands on my knees trying to not fall on my face and ruin 3 years of braces I realized I wasn’t just blacking out. My entire body had the “pins and needles” feeling you get when your foot falls asleep, my vision was pulsing (normal I have seen that lots of times) but it was blurry and almost wavy. My breathing was coming back but now I was trying not to vomit. I took three steps forward and two steps to the side, I trotted into a jog and couldn’t breath again. I stopped to walk and the dizzy got worse, I tried to sit down but couldn’t find the ground without feeling like I was diving out of an airplane.
At this point a man with a bike rode by wearing a staff shirt so I flagged him down and said something to him that I never thought I would say, something that even now puts a knot in my throat and brings extra moisture to my eyes (its not tears BACK OFF!)
“I think I need to drop out”
A couple of minutes later I was riding in a wheel chair, arms, hands legs, back all knotted up in full on cramps and a very nice and pretty girl names Rain pushing me toward the medical station. They took my temperature and got 95 degrees, I think the thermometer was broken. They also recorded my heart rate which was a racing 70 beats per minute. Then took my blood pressure which is notoriously on the high side, but this time registered as 70/50. After about 30 minutes of chatting with the medical staff and several glasses of chicken broth I walked out of the medical station under my own power toward the transition area and my parents car.
15 minutes later I shuffled to the nose of the Nissan and plopped down on the curb resting my face on the cool bug spattered licence plate. My sweaty clothes were now on the hood and I was wearing almost exactly what I had started off the day with, minus the goggles and swim cap. After about 30 more minutes I got up to go find a cell phone to call my parents, however I realized after 15 minutes of walking I had not asked a single person for their phone. It was then that I got hit with a wave of chills, nausea, and dizziness so I lied down on the curb under an overpass staring up at the rumbling road above with my voice inside my head screaming “you dropped out, you dropped out, why, after all that why?”
Who knows how much longer I was there but when I came to there were 7 very nice faces looking down at me, all topping a yellow cotton t shirt that said “Chrissy support crew” the oldest man of the group said “don’t worry I called the EMT they will be here any time” to which I sat up real fast and said “oh no I am fine, but can I borrow a phone?”
After spending 15 more minutes in the back of an ambulance explaining that I was fine and my vitals had returned to normal I took up my post on the curb again by the Nissan alone with my thoughts and my failure.
I made an effort, I went for broke and well, I broke. However if I had never tried where would I be right now? If I had gone easier on the bike would I have finished? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do know that now I have an even greater drive to conquer this thing, and confidence that I can do it in the 10 hour range. I am proud of my hard work and my commitment to something even though a lot of people discouraged me and things like injuries tried to stop me. I persevered, I dared to fail, and fail I did, but I came closer to success than those who have only ever dreamed of trying, and I learned a lot about myself through that failure. Much more than I would have if I had just breezed through it.
Embrace failure, it can teach you a lot about life and who you are. There is no greater failure than not even trying.