Hey guys. It’s been awhile. Obviously a LOT has changed since I last wrote on this sweet little blog of mine, over a month actually! (I think having a monthly cadence is probably the most doable for me, and allows me to cover the most important lessons learned…).
As many of you now know, I attempted my first 70.3 Ironman in Madison, WI on Sunday, and DNF’ed. It was a tumultuous day, in every single possible way. I have talked so much about this to everyone who’s asked, and I have finally gotten to the point where I’ve almost completely ironed out my thoughts. Which means – I’m ready to write.
Don’t get me wrong – we had an absolutely wonderful weekend leading up to the event. Madison is so beautiful and fun and relaxing. We got to the Athlete Briefing on Saturday the 9th, and I learned of all the intricate details of the course, the rules (wow there are so many!), got my chip/bag/shirt/swim cap, and checked in my bike. I was ready- mentally at least. I knew that I had attempted some pretty big feats in the past, and I was able to just power through it regardless of the pain and discomfort. I just gritted my teeth and did it. But little did I know this race would present itself the way it did. Looking back, I REALLY had no idea what I was getting into (haha – more on some deeper training lessons later).
We got to our hotel and met my grandparents since they live in Madison too. Every year, my grandparents stuff bags and packets for the Ironman races (both the 70.3 and full Ironman) and inside my packet was a sweet note from my Grandma: “Go Miss America! You can do this! We are so proud of you!” That was a beautiful and uplifting message to start off my Ironman weekend. After the visit, we got some pasta dinner (gf of course for me) and then swam in the hotel pool. The whole time, I was amazingly calm – not worried or scared or anxious or anything. Just calm, and ready for whatever Sunday would bring. Or so I thought!
Sunday morning came after 9 hours of perfect sleep. I looked out the window. Darkness. And rain. Pouring rain. It was ugly. But I kept my chin up and got ready and had my breakfast. We were walking to the event just around 5:30 and got there to setup my things in transition. As you can imagine, since it was raining so much, the ground was muddy and soaked, so all my things were going to be wet no matter what I did. I kept everything but my helmet zipped in my bag to help protect it from the water as best as I could. And THEN the rain came. Boy, it was POURING for about 45 minutes. I didn’t have my phone on me, but apparently they had spotted lightning in the area earlier that morning and canceled the practice swim. GREAT, I thought. That bodes well.
So it’s 6:45am, and the race is set to begin at 7am, until we hear over the loudspeaker that there would be a 30 minute delay to let the rain pass. So here we all are, standing out in the rain shivering, waiting for this daunting race, til the rain was over. Super fun (insert eye roll). But I didn’t let my spirits get down – I still had a LOT of work to do. So I kept warm, kept moving, and finally it was 7:30am, and we lined up in our rolling start lines (you line up based on what you think your finish time would be for the swim). I lined up with the 47-50 minute swimmers – I thought that was a safe bet.
I didn’t even get into the water until almost 8:40am – Talk about a LONG morning! My lips were blue from being so cold, and I immediately regretted not renting or buying a wetsuit (note to self!!!). Finally, I was in the water. I could run about 100 yards out before we had to start swimming, so that was encouraging at first! And then it hit me. Literally. The waves HIT me. Slapped me. Pushed me underwater. They were incessant and powerful. I couldn’t get my stroke in line, I couldn’t create any sort of rhythm in the water. I tried not to panic and tried to just keep breathing and moving forward.
It felt like every 3rd wave would hit me and I would swallow water. I was genuinely scared a few times because I choked on water. Luckily a kayak was close, and I was able to rest a few times. Guys, I’m not joking, I saw six people get pulled out of the water voluntarily, because they did not want to continue the swim (or couldn’t!). It was insane! I saw two kayaks get rolled over because of the waves! The people volunteering were saying “it’s rough out here for us, I don’t know HOW you guys are swimming in this!” I finally looped around the 2nd turn booey, and I saw the finish of the swim. It felt like HOURS away, based on how these waves were hitting everyone around me. But I was determined to finish that damn swim!
I looked at my watch with about 300 yards left, and it was already at 65 minutes. There was no way I could hit my 70 minute time cut off. But at the time, I was so freaking SICK of being in the water, and I was so freaking frustrated with the whole situation, I just gunned it. I put my head down and kicked and pushed and tried to catch my breath right up until I was about 75 yards away and I looked up to the finish line and I saw Patrick, standing there in his red windbreaker, jumping up and down, waiting for me! It was seriously like seeing HEAVEN. 🙂
I got out of the water, ran up to the arch, and crossed under it, officially beginning my T1 (first transition). My heart was so elated, I didn’t even care or think about the fact that I had already DNF’ed at that time, it didn’t matter. I had finished that horrific swim and I was so proud of myself (haha, kind of funny to say that now!). My sister told me afterwards that people were coming out of the water puking green water (horrifying) and sobbing because of the experience in the water. Many individuals quit right after that. Many even quit before the race started because of the conditions (including the CFO of Trek Bikes!)
My sister, Erik, and Patrick all ran with me alongside the fence to the transition area. This is where the FUN began. It was a slop fest – ALL mud from the rain and wet bodies running on it for hours before I got there. I ran and stomped and kicked through this mud and I was muddy up to my thighs. Not gonna lie – it was kind of fun! As tired as I was, I was trying to find the positive side of it all, and running and getting filthy dirty in mud was a blast! 🙂
I got to my transition, got loaded up, soaking wet socks and all (thanks rain) and rain my bike down to the mount line. I mounted, and off I went. Now I’d like to tell you that the bike was okay, that it was doable, and I was finally “in my element”. But obviously that’s not how this story is going to go. Excruciating hamstring pain hit me around mile 20 and I actually still feel it today. The hills on this course. THE HILLS. The sheer amount of hills is probably worse than their elevation! They were NOT joking, and that was a big awakening for me. I pushed through as best as I could, and told myself I was tough and strong for doing my BEST.
The rest is history. The rest is the part of the day I don’t like to think about. The rest of the day is where I broke down and felt like a loser. A failure. I was in total shock. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t even finish the swim in time. THE SWIM! I didn’t even get to attempt my favorite part of the whole damn thing – the run. My favorite part was stripped away from me. How did I, just regular ol’ Shannon, think I could possibly attempt such an event? This is an IRONMAN, lady! You’re surrounded by big league athletes! These people are no joke, and they have the endurance and strength no other athletes have, I swear. I couldn’t measure up, I wasn’t adequate on that day.
I had all kinds of this negative self talk after the race because I genuinely had never experienced a failure like this before, and certainly never a DNF! It was unheard of in my world. I had to shake myself out of it when we got back to the hotel, as I saw all the runners still completing their journeys during the half marathon. Every single runner that passed pulled a little part away from my heart. I had worked so damn hard to get to that point, and I was slapped in the face before I could even prove myself. All my training went out the window with that swim, and by the time I hit the bike, I was demoralized. Broken. Exhausted.Today, I am a new and changed person. HUGELY changed. I have learned so much about myself, so much about how this race works, and so much about what I need to know for my next race. YES there will be a next race. I will NOT give this up, because I am tough and hard-headed and supremely stubborn when I fail myself. I refuse to let this go. It will not escape me and I promise that I will accomplish this feat. I want this even MORE than when I first signed up – now that it was taken away from me and I was not worthy to cross that line in some respects.
I tell this story to hopefully enlighten some of you who feel down, who don’t feel like you’re good enough, who feel like you’ve failed at something and don’t want to try again. Because WE HAVE ALL BEEN THERE. No one is perfect, no one. So don’t ever think that someone is constantly succeeding in life because they’re perfect. Maybe they set themselves up for success, sign up for things they KNOW they can achieve, train their brains out and hit the goal. Whatever it is, do not ever compare yourself to others and do not ever think that just because you fail (and fail and fail and fail!) that you should not keep trying.
My dad reminded me of the Japanese proverb about falling down 7 times, but getting up 8 times. We all really must remember to keep fighting and keep pushing to achieve whatever goals we setup for ourselves, because if we just constantly succeeded in everything, where would we learn? Where would we have fun? How could we grow?
I am proud to have attempted this event. I’m proud to have trained for 5 months. I’m proud that I made it through that swim and hopped on the bike even though I knew I couldn’t cross the finish line or accept a medal. This was a huge learning experience for me, and I thank every single individual one of you who sent me a text, called me, messaged me, wrote on my wall, commented on my photos, encouraged me through all of my training every step of the way because you guys are so freaking awesome. I am surrounded by some of the most beautiful individuals and friends who have supported me every step of the way, even from their own homes and through social media, and it seriously brings me to tears. I am so so humbled by this experience, and I hope that I can continue to inspire and shine through this and kickstart some of you to get trying and working hard again towards YOUR goals.
Love you guys. Thanks for sticking through this and reading it.
I’m not stopping, so hope you are cool with watching my journey continue onward 😉
Peace, love, running, and yoga.