This is going to be long, not as long as it would’ve been mind, but bear with me none the less. I’ve tried to write this a few times and I’m concerned there isn’t a way to do it without me sounding over dramatic. But after a lovely comment from someone about my blogs I thought it best I write it, rather than just keep burying it under the carpet with the rest of my emotions (see dramatic)!
I’d spent the last 9 months of my life, dreaming, thinking, obsessing over every detail of this day. Everything I ate, everything I read, everything I did outside of my proper job and my other not so proper job (here’s looking at you Run Things) was in preparation for this moment. I’d done the training, rehearsed the route, read countless books, and watched the previous years races. I was ready, or as ready as I’d ever be. Turns out in all the countless hours, days, weeks, months of obsessing and planning, i’d missed out one key element, what the hell I’d do if it was cancelled…
My alarm went off a little after 3 and I got up to make my three breakfasts. That sounds excessive I know, but it was gonna be a long day and I’m not great at eating big meals at the best of times and especially not on race day. So I had my routine starting at 3:30 and ending somewhere around 5:30, consisting of 3 smaller breakfasts that would get me to the intake I needed, without me puking from force-feeding. Rocking up at the start line of outlaw 2019, I was more nervous than i’d ever been, much more nervous than my 1st marathon. The thing about a big triathlon like outlaw is that all the transition and change areas are on lock down to competitors only. So I left my sister to go and load up my bike with all it’s gear, nutrition and computer. I’d downloaded the bike course so I didn’t get lost, and Jim had spent the evening carefully prepping all my food in to bite sized chunks, perfectly measured so that I was fuelled to perfection by the time the run came about. I then got ready in to my wetsuit, still all on my own. I was so proud of myself for this bit. I know it sounds stupid, but walking into that change tent alone where almost everyone looked professional, comfortable, and seemed to have a friend or club mate to talk with. I just did what I had to do and made sure I had enough time to pop back out past security and give my peoples a hug.
I returned to wait by the waters edge, still not having a soul to chat with. I recited mantras in my head and took big deep breaths until we were ushered in. This was a deep water start, essentially you all get in to the water a few minutes from the start to just bob around, rather than all running/jumping in when the horn goes. This was good for me, it meant I could do all the things I’d been taught to help keep panic at bay, acclimatise! I did a few strokes, held my head under the water, flushed my wetsuit through, and kept my heart rate elevated.
I had a strategy which was to start at the back and stick close to the bank so my sighting was easy and therefore panic wasn’t an issue. My panic attacks in open water have been a bit of an unexpected hurdle of this journey. I love swimming and I’m actually pretty good at it, but the sighting and temperature issues in open water really do stress my mind out. The rain was coming down pretty heavy now as the countdown started. We were off and I was straight in to front crawl. I soon realised that what I thought was the back was somehow the middle and I was in the thick of it, nowhere near the safety of the bank, and with terrible visibility due to the rain. I bobbed up and down and focussed on my breathing, I just had to let all the crazy go by, but it never really did. It was so busy and I had to get moving. It was so hard to get into a rhythm, every-time someone kicked or knocked me I’d panic and have to breast stroke it out. It wasn’t until the return of our first lap that I was able to get in to the position I wanted, with the bank to my side I felt comfortable in front crawl and everything starter to go so much better.
By the time I was exiting the water for the start of lap two I was in a good place, happy with my time and feeling positive. Then the news, I heard the announcer say that the bike leg had been cancelled, I was really confused. I didn’t know if I should be getting back in the water or if it was all over. Other people were getting back in the water so I just followed. It was super tough to stop my head from going in to overdrive, but I thought I just need to get the swim done and then I could figure out what was happening, who knew maybe it would be back on by the time I got out. I’d always wanted to put a decent buffer between myself and the bike cut off by having a good swim and I knew I was on track for that. The second lap was much better, much quicker and zero panics. I exited the water to Jim telling me the bike had been cancelled, he asked if I was going to run and I said yes. Next up was Kev who asked a similar thing. Having had my initial instantaneous reaction of yes, I asked Kev for his advice which I really value, he said it was up to me and either way was the right call. I followed with probably the most insightful and pragmatic thing I’ve ever said “I can only do what they put in front of me, right?!” and off I went into the changing tent.
Little did I know it would be another 90 minutes before I would run.
I had an hour and a half between the swim and the bike, I know so many people who had even longer as they had to stagger us as they’d never imagined to have over 1000 people starting the run at one time. This wait was pretty tough, all the highs of a good swim soon drained and the reality set in that I was gonna have to run a marathon now, I wasn’t ready for it, didn’t think I deserved it. I busied myself in the transition tent. I got fully changed out of my trisuit as it seemed like a good idea not to stay soggy for the whole time. I chatted to some people, there were lots of tears and I just tried to focus on anything but that fact I wasn’t going to be an ironperson today.
Soon enough I was on the start line, I wasn’t even excited. I tried to psyche my self up with the music, but some how I felt like i’d cheated. I wasn’t meant to be on this start line, not yet. They let the runners off in 5 second intervals as they hadn’t expected to be in a position where so many people would all be running at the same time. People were talking about how they would try for PB runs, but I hadn’t trained for that. I’d specifically picked an ironman to get my head out of speed and times on the run, my focus throughout training, my game plan for the mara, was to run the first lap (10 miles ish), and then see how I felt. Intersperse the running with walking from that point on. I’d done one slow 20 in training and a handful of halves. My focus had purposefully been on the swim/cycle elements, especially focussed on running off the bike. None of that mattered now, I just had to do it.
We started and I decided to try and stay below the 10 minute mile mark for the entirety, running a 4 something marathon seemed realistic on the little training I’d done for this bit. I got chatting to a lady at about 2 miles in and we stuck together for the next 16 which really did help shift the time. The route is not inspiring, it is laps (x 4) of the lake and an out and back along the river (x2). The weather was atrocious, the paths were essentially mud baths and everything was drenched. Trail shoes would have been an advantage. At this point I should have been riding the wave of killer legs, and shear joy that I was gonna do the thing. Instead it was the biggest mental battle to not just say f*** it and walk off course. I had countless toilet stops which I’m certain is down to the fueling being a mess, as I should never have been running at this time, and my fully tries and tested plan hadn’t accounted for not being on the bike for 8 hours. The outlaw crews out on course were incredible and the people who did brave the weather were heroes, but the atmosphere was pretty dead, which is such a shame after all the great things I had heard about the outlaw crowds from previous years. By mile 19 I was so done, and in no way shape or form interested in running another two laps of the lake. Passing the finish line, and my bike which was still in T1 at every lap, was a particular kind of kick in the stomach.
I ran down the finish shoot with more determination and probably frustration than I ever have done. It was over. And it was shit. Not outlaw, not the decision they had to take, not ironman distance events, not the swim, not the marathon, not the weather, not the lack of support, but the finsih of a thing that was not the thing I was meant to be doing.
I have no idea if I would have done it, I can make assumptions based on my training and the good time I got in the swim, but who knows, two punctures and it could have all ended with me only being 1/3rd an iron person, at least I’m for certain 2/3rds. I’m not mad they cancelled the bike, I saw the pictures, I heard the stories and I’d rather that than someone be injured or worse. But I am sad, so sad for everything I lost, and very little of that relates to the day. You see the day is just a victory lap, the bit that makes all the pain worth it.
Now none of that matters I know, I did the training, I did the things I could do on the day, and I finished what was in front of me. I get all that, But also I don’t. Because I wanted to quit so many times over the past 9 months. I pushed my self to every single end of every single limit I had, because I told my self it would be worth it, and heres the crutch of why I’m so sad, it wasn’t, and that seems so unbelievably unfair.
Now before anyone gets too concerned about my mental state, I am also so totally fine. I am aware that this is just the highs and lows of sports, that it is a privilege that I get to train 6 days a week, and push my self to the edges of what my brain allows me to believe is possible. I am also aware that I am not a professional athlete, and despite my desire to get paid for running around at a very average pace, I never will be. I also am highly aware that at any moment in time I can sign up for another event, commit the time and dedication and complete it. I am certain that I can do an iron person distance event, because I am certain that anyone could. I believe that the only thing that ever stops us from doing these things is our brains ability to comprehend just how awesome we are, and our willingness/desire to dedicate the time.
People often ask me why I do what I do. What I’m searching for in all this activity driven stuff. What I’m running from, hiding from, trying to prove? Why I do the things that sometimes break my heart, and then do them again and again? Why I am so dependent on sport, and why I keep coming back for more? I don’t always know the answer to that, it’s not always clear in the moments after a bad performance, or a hard blow. I also am not totally convinced there has to be a deeper meaning, reason or purpose. I just do what I do, and even in the moments when it breaks me, I love it, in fact I love it more for testing me, it’s brutally honest.
So i’m going to leave you with this, as I’m not sure what’s next or when I’ll be writing again.
I spent the last 9 months:
- making new friends
- getting stronger
- being wild
- being brave
- overcoming obstacles
- being in nature
- jumping in
- eating cake
- drinking beer
- breaking the rules
And when you look at it like that, then maybe I’m not the crazy one for going after the big impossible dreams. Maybe it’s the best thing that any of us can ever do.
go get the thing