Tired Mom Becomes an Ironman
Updated: May 4
The day I became an Ironman. The day Norwegian Gods tried their best to stop me, but I persevered, I battled against and I conquered my own preconceived limitations and smiled my way into the podium of the very first Ironman I ever raced. This is the story of an epic race day I had prepared years for.
My first Ironman was held in Haugesund, which lies on the coast of the North Atlantic coast in the Western part of Norway during summer is brrrrisky!! I was mentally prepared for cool summer weather, but my body needed time to adjust, after all, I arrived from 40 degrees C into 15 C degree summer weather in Norway. I had an overnight flight via Istanbul. I was cramped up, unable to sleep. I had to drag the heavy bike box and a little carry on wheelie and backpack with me. Germ phobic as I am, I was wearing a mask, a scarf over my hair, disinfecting everything around me, and it was pre-Covid19. Nope, I would not get sick.
As I told you in my last post, my difficulties were not behind me, yet. I didn't get sick, but I did pull my back. I was not done with adversity. Mental note: Get a Sherpa Next Time.
I refused to give up. Having adapted to this new mentality where I believed in myself so profoundly that nothing in this world would stop me. Effing nothing. I believed I could get through anything. Even at the eve of the race when I could not bend over due to SI-joint lock up that seized my gluteal muscles, I kept on believing. I was in shit loads of pain and could not run a step. Even though I was not sure I could run after the bike leg, I believed I could put up a good fight on the day of.
So I did. Here's what happened during the race.
It's early in the am. I am up at 3:45 am. Breakfast, get a ride to the venue, warm-up and last minute check of the gear. It is raining and windy. This would be a cold day. As we are standing there by the lake, waiting for the start, they play Norwegian national anthem and I cannot stop the tears. It had been a long time since I heard: "Ja, vi elsker dette landet". It felt like I was finally home. Like I was doing what I was put here on this earth to do. I looked to the right and saw a small crowd gathered on this cold, rainy morning with thunderclouds gathering up right next to the lake, and I see my dear dad waving his little Finnish flag. Emotions bubbled up inside me.
Ironman preparation is a function of many factors.
Remember earlier I mentioned cutting negativity out of my life? It's funny how your perception of other people can misguide you. Because of things that happened 20 years ago, I anticipated my parents would frown upon this whole crazy thing and tell me"Why are you doing this? Ironman is a lot of training, you are going to break yourself, blaa blaa blaa". So I decided that I would tell them after I had finished. But my hubby made me tell them a week before the race. I could not have been more wrong. My dad was so excited he drove his campervan from North Finland 1800 km for two nights just to see me race.That's commitment!
But let's get back to the race.
The gun goes off and we are off! I was out like a cannonball. The water was freezing cold, and I had to stop after 200m to hyperventilate, panicked, and nearly quit because I could not breathe. I was panicking: "Game over after 200m?!" The thought of so many people following me on their Ironman Trackers all over the world and supporting me flashed through my mind. I was able to get my breathing under control, looked at my watch which was showing my average pace 1:30 min/100m, my fastest split I've ever done and way under my goal pace. So I tell myself, just relax and get into the rhythm. It will be ok. I wasted 2 long minutes trying to get my breath in control.
And then there were those thunderclouds, remember? The Norwegian God Thor was putting down the hammer, boasting a nice little show. Well, lightning next to a lake makes an excellent chaser. I was about 400-500 m out from the finish line when I see them flashing, lightning striking right next to the lake 500 people were swimming. "Shit, we are all going to die!", that was all I was thinking. I raised my stroke rate and got out of the water 1st in my age group, at 62 mins according to my watch. My goal had been to swim 65 mins. I was a happy little bee!
I am freezing, wet but giggling. The bike leg would be a cold business. I took my time on the transition to get on an emergency blanket under my tri suit. Then I realized I forgot to put on my Heart Rate Belt. Another minute or two wasted taking off my tri suit and putting on my HR belt. Mental note: practice transitions, and stay focused. Keep on task. I was still giggling about my crazy fast swim. But the race is not over, my dear. Swim time means as much as mosquitoes droppings in the Baltic sea. Another weird Finnish saying.
My goal for bike leg was 6 hrs the hilly course. It was thundering, windy, and cold! Coach and I had a plan to keep the power to around 75% of my Functional Threshold Power. A power meter basically allows you to control your power output (how much force you push on the pedals) and make sure you don't bike too hard and burn out. Preservation of your limited energy storage is the key and you want to leave tons for the marathon.
I am holding target power output, maybe even going a bit harder than 75% but the pace felt super slow. I felt like I was crawling (lesson learned: my power meter was not giving the correct power numbers, make sure you have the pedals attached properly and calibrate the power meter before a race). People were flying past. I really struggled mentally to stick to the plan. At some point a lightning stroke so close to me, I couldn't hear a thing in a few minutes. I was all by myself and was wondering if the organizers would stop the race."Thor, please, leave me alone!" I was all alone for the longest time, not seeing a soul.
It was a tough course with nearly 1800m elevation, I did mention it is pancake flat in Dubai, right? The hilly course definitely was not making me any more confident in my biking skills. The slow pace was now making me doubt myself. I knew I was no longer the first place. I kept thinking of my coach's words: "The Ironman Race Starts At the Run". And I knew I can run.
Run is what I love to do. It is my reward at the end of a very long day. At transition two I knew I was no longer anywhere near the lead. I was in tons of groin pain after 7 hours on the bike. I felt defeated and bummed out about my slow bike. I had to forget about the past and stay in the moment. A marathon is a long run, and anything can happen. I pulled on all the tricks I had against mental fatigue and negative self-talk. I carried little notes from a family with me and when I struggled, I picked one-note and read it. They gave me a huge mental energy boost. "Don't think about the result, just have fun!"
Although I was battling negative self-talk and just focusing to stay in the moment, I also felt the extreme pleasure of being able to do this crazy thing and passing people who had zoomed by me on the bike and were now reduced to walking, the dreaded Ironman shuffle. I was running and keeping a steady pace. I was an hour behind the leader and knew that it was too far to my Kona ticket. It was gone. But it no longer mattered. It was all about me and my battle against the fatigue and my ever-diminishing energy stores. The battle against my mind wanting to stop when my tank was completely empty. All I could think of was to put one foot ahead of the other. I had nothing else to give.
We had a negative split plan for the marathon, but it was clear after 15 km that I had nothing more to give. All I had was to fight to keep running. Forget about the pace, just focus on the rhythm and smile. Then my watch died at 35 km. I had a little over 7 km to go. I was so fatigued, that in my mind I "calculated" that I would run somewhere 4:10 and felt mentally beaten. I had to pull myself together and forget about time altogether.
I learned that at some point of the Ironman marathon, you get to the point when you think you simply cannot go on. You're completely empty. I just want to quit pushing yourself. That's when you need to know your why get your best battle axes out and go to war against your fatigued mind. Once you cross that line of “I can’t continue anymore, I'll just walk a little bit” and you keep on running, you will be forever changed. You will never ever look back again. You go to the other side. You “go to the well”. Before you get to the other side, all that matters is that you don't stop. Once you are on the other side, you get into a rhythm again, "the second wind" and you feel like you are finally invincible. It's truly a beautiful demonstration of human will power. As difficult and painful as it is to get there, I can't wait for the next chance to go to the well in a race when it matters the most.
I run only 9 minutes slower marathon (3:55) than my stand-alone marathon PR a few months earlier. And in the mental fatigue, I had thought I was running over 4:10 marathon! I was 3rd in my age group. I was an hour slower than what we had planned. And with that hour, I lost my Kona spot. I was disappointed that I didn’t qualify for Kona, but also exhilarated of the fact that I had finished after all the obstacles along the way. There were two girls that were simply better than me on that day.
I felt extremely proud of myself of coming this far on my journey. And of course, it ultimately climaxed when I crossed the famous red and black Ironman carpeted Finish Line to be met by volunteers hanging a medal on my neck and seeing my dad with tears in his eyes.
Norwegians truly know to arrange a brutal Ironman. The weather showed it's "best" Norwegian weather; cold, thunder, rainy, windy. Cold swim, hilly bike, hilly run. In a weird way, I was proud that I had lasted so long and loved every single brutal minute of it!
I have felt such a huge surge of self-confidence, and certainty that I can do whatever I want to do. That nothing truly is impossible. I tell my kids that almost daily. Once I had reached the “other side” there was less and less self-doubt and self-sabotage, and more quiet confidence that anything IS possible. It is not just cheesy Ironman slang. If I truly want to reach for something crazy challenging stuff, I CAN DO IT! I feel like words are not enough to describe the feeling and thoughts I have after my first Ironman. Pure joy is nowhere near what I feel.
Now, I know what you are saying. That I've always been athletic, or that I have what most people don't. No. I am just a regular Jane. And from 2010 to 2018, I was at my lowest fitness and physical shape I've ever been to. I was way over my ideal weight, I didn't run in years and I was in pain. Deep mental and physical pain. I felt lost and without a purpose. Coming out of that rut is not a walk in the park.
The life I was living no longer appealed to me. I was profoundly sick of it. So I did something about it. I took a hard look at the mirror and started lifting my foot to change it completely. I asked for help. I made a commitment to myself. And I believed in my goal and myself. I finally put myself first. And as I sit here writing this in April 2020, I remember all the obstacles I had to fight through to get here. Yes, my athletic background helped me to accomplish this. But it is due to my will power to change my life that saved me.
In all honesty, my journey becoming an Ironmom started years before I even started training for it. A seed for a healthier, more robust woman, mom, wife, myself was planted during those desperate moments when I cried alone, completely lost in my own world, feeling the pull to jump off the cliff in a windblown Newfoundland, wanting to end exhaustion. Those moments were all put into a bowl of will power and energy which I dip into when I feel frustrated, tired, exhausted. Those moments, as painful as they are to relive and remember, paved the way to a stronger and happier me. Nothing an Ironman journey could throw at me could be more difficult to tackle than what I had already gone through. The fact that I was able to resist the deep, dark pull to end my days, those moments were pivotal for me ever crossing any finish lines, let alone an ultra-endurance event requiring me to hone my skills in not only one sport, but three! When life throws lemons at me, or I am struggling to get through a particularly brutal workout, that's what I think about. How I have gone through more difficult situations. And I am grateful for those difficult times. Without them, I would not be the woman I am today.
And I know for the fact that if you have ever gone through something difficult in your life that did not break you, you too can accomplish incredible things! Use the power you have within yourself, harness it, and get after something that excites and at the same time scares you.
Do you ever wonder what else life could be? What else you could do if you just started?
I want to know that I am here for you. The purpose of sharing my story is to give my own journey a voice that can help another mother in “survival mode”. If I have changed one life, all that I have gone through is worth it. I want you to find your way out of survival mode and into the thriving mode, whatever it may look like to you. Stay connected. I have something amazing in store for you.
In the next post, I will go deeper into the psychology of how you too can accomplish something that seems way too crazy and big.
Until then, yours in life,
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