The love; support; messages; encouragement; photos; letters; Facebook live updates / discussions / tracking and worldwide conversation (literally -- from San Ramon, CA to Atlanta, GA to Manila, Philippines and several places in between); reminders of that same support; calls to check-in; handmade scrapbooks of my journey; thank yous for fundraising; smiles; hugs; and GO MARIA's I had received.....
I'm sorry if I could not personally respond to the deluge of messages each of you had sent me. But please know -- from the very bottom of my heart -- what these meant to me. I likely cried my own weight in tears of joy, inspiration, gratitude and thanks. And the support, friendships and love that came from not only this journey and experience but this one day alone will be forever with me.
For those that made it through my full Race Day Report, I'd like to close in stating the final lesson (among the countless ones from this 10-month season) that I learned.
Through my Ironman experience and 16+ hour day on Sunday, August 29, 2010, I learned first-hand, that the maturity of an endurance athlete is defined by knowing when to say "when".
It's often the most difficult thing to make the ultimate decision to put aside something for the betterment of something (or someone) else ~ especially if that someone is you. To respect yourself, to respect your body. To respect the challenge and to respect the Ironman distance. To acknowledge the effort you've put forth and to be humbled by it all ~ that's what I was taught in those final moments of my race and I am so grateful. It was Coach Simon who coined so well the phrase:
"Regardless of how many miles, hours, victories or setbacks you tallied, the true byproduct of endurance racing is the unveiling of your own character. We do these things because they eventually wear us down to our raw selves, and we get to add a layer of strength to that latent person inside of us."
At mile 135.6 of a 140.6-mile race, I saw that raw self. I was introduced to myself from a totally new angle and deep down, knew the right thing to do. As painful or disappointing as the decision could have been, to stop walking and end my race ~ knowing full well everything it took me to get there, it was ultimately a no-brainer, ironically enough :)
This experience, which initially started as this giant goal to "do my first triathlon and make it a big one", got me to achieve a kind of confidence, inner strength and self-awareness I don't think I would have acquired anywhere else. It's taught me to trust more fully in my instincts and own inner voice; it's taught me a profound kind of patience; humility in efforts to achieve something truly BIG; and gratitude and contentment in the simplest things... like being able to swim, bike & run.
The following stats were recently brought to my attention in regards to my race day:
The 2010 Ironman Louisville earned its cred this year as the Ironman having the highest DNF rate of all races. This year they announced at the awards banquet that 2,555 athletes started the race, but only 2,067 finished, there was a 16% DNF rate – 488 athletes. Over 400 athletes also didn’t start the race that had registered.
Despite the astonishing numbers and harsh conditions, I feel very fortunate to actually have experienced no physical pain during my Ironman. And I feel that's a testament to a great training program; proper recovery & maintenance of the body; and a little bit of luck. Sure, there was natural discomfort in being exposed to the heat and humidity for the long hours of that day, and one really can't describe the mental challenges that come to an Ironman athlete on Race Day. It's unique and personal for each individual. But coming out of the swim; dismounting the bike; and during the marathon, I had no major cramping or pain. And I'm so proud to report that! I also felt my nutrition plan (tried & tested over 5 months) worked well for me, had it not been for the latter miles of the run with the temperature still above 90 degrees, and my heart rate likely sky-rocketing and inhibiting my fuel digestion. Ultimately, it would have been a matter of simulating the heat and humid conditions I tackled on a Kentucky Summer Day ~ which is very difficult to do in the Bay Area, simply by virtue of the dry heat and climate we have. But by training my body (heart rate & digestive functions) for that kind of humid heat + a slight tweaking of my nutrition to compensate for such heat, I would have been more well-equipped to feel much comfortable for the marathon and complete the last 5 miles. All in retrospect, though. And now I have a number of key lessons I've learned for the next time (I mean -- next tri. Distance: TBD) !
As for my recovery period, you'll be pleased to know that after an ice bath the following Monday morning; a light 1-hr massage Monday afternoon; and taking the flight back home in my cozy compression recovery tights ~ I'm actually back to feeling just great. The soreness (mainly in my lower back and my hamstrings) lasted about 2 days. This week, I've been enjoying the time off work, with my feet up and some frequent stretching to elongate those muscles and get me back to feeling like my normal, flexible self again. I also treated myself to a facial and deeper tissue massage later on in the week and have been sure to keep hydrating and pumping up the Vitamin C to aid in my immune functions as well. Surprisingly, my appetite isn't quite nearly as voracious as I thought it would be (thank goodness!). However the odd thing is that I'll go hours without any appetite, and then be stricken with about a 5-minute hunger pang, followed by the need to doze off like I have narcolepsy!
I often feel the temptation to go for a light run, since my body's so used to being in motion; but have resisted and will be sure to give my body the adequate recovery time it needs. They say that it takes at least one full month to recover from an Ironman, and perhaps up to 2 for some. Active recovery, like swimming, is ok.
My plans for the future are still uncertain ~ which is kind of exciting. For the first time in 10 months (and 12 before that) -- I have no training calendars to follow. I have freedom to do all kinds of things and now, more than ever, the sky is the limit.
I'd like to take time off from doing any big events for the next few months, so I can focus on jumpstarting the rest of my career. However, the chances of you finding me on a leisurely bike ride around town; or energizing spin class outside of Sports Basement in Walnut Creek; a casual run on the Iron Horse Trail; or a refreshing swim... will be very likely. I would love to maintain the fitness I've achieved through all this and now that I've discovered (and properly learned!) the sports of swimming, cycling & running, I get to re-discover the joy of them all over again.
I want to give a very, very special acknowledgment to Team in Training's IronTeam program, and that includes the people behind the scenes. The coaching program, connections with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Cause, and wonderful network of teammates, friends & volunteers ~ made my journey what it was. I felt truly prepared to take on an Ironman as my first triathlon because of the confidence brought about from my IronTeam experience. For anyone interested in taking on any kind of endurance event ~ whether it be a marathon, century ride, triathlon (of varying distances), hiking or skiing event, I highly recommend Team in Training. The caliber of individuals I have trained with and have been privileged to get to know as my friends is truly one of a kind. I encourage any first-time endurance athletes to sign up for an event and affiliate yourselves with this wonderful organization. For more information, visit Team in Training's website.
And as a final update, IronTeam 2010 has collectively raised over $231,818.00 this season to provide funding for blood cancer research and to improve the lives of current patients. Thank you, thank you, all! I am so proud to be part of this group and family that continues to give and give to make a difference in the lives of others.
The underlying theme I've always felt was present is that true colors show through the experience of an Ironman. Regardless if they're good, bad, ugly. They show through when you're in the depths of pain, emotional highs and lows, and having to push through and do what you need to in order to keep moving forward. It is my belief that it's the lessons you learn and take away from the experience that make you grow as an individual.
On the same token however, I also think it's about where you're coming from and each of our individual reasons for signing up in the first place. For me, this whole thing was never about a medal or 'bragging rights' or a tattoo. I wanted an enriching experience that would literally push me out of my comfort zone, and make me stronger, tougher and more well-rounded once I came out the other end :) And thankfully, I felt all of those things came true. Just as a part of focusing on the journey and process, and for that, I have no regrets.
I thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing in my journey with me. Your support, love, and faith in me have helped to push me farther than I ever thought possible.
With sincere thanks & gratitude always,