Saturday, October 22, 2022


Usually all I have to do is wait a few days for my brain cells to regenerate after an Ironman before I know exactly how to incapsulate my experience in writing. "Process"ing, apparently, is an important part of the process.  I usually know what I felt, what impression the race left on me, and how I want to learn and grow, and build towards what's next. But here I am a few weeks after race day with just now, the beginning of some words that have become benevolently dislodged. These are not so much building words as emptying words. Please read them as such. 

I haven't felt scared of an Ironman in a long time. I don't remember the last time I didn't sleep well the night before a race and I've been thinking that this is not good. That's typically an early warning sign for me that things are going to change. One of my primary guiding life principles is to go towards the things that scare me. And by guiding principle, I don't necessarily mean a thing that I do on purpose. It's more a principle of inevitability. Anyway, I was nervous as fuck before Kona and barely slept at all. 

I've grown to love the nervous excitement before the race. As I waited in the water for the gun to go off, situated in my wave of women between the ages of 35 and 39, I remember feeling like I belonged with those women between the ages of 35 and 39, who may or may not have lives similar to mine. Who may or may not be entwined in similar layers of unfolding. Who, alongside all of our various differences, share one essential quality: that our desire to be bold and bright in this world is at least, and perhaps only, 1% higher than the entry fee of fear and heartbreak required to inhabit it.     

The swim was the swim, as it almost always is. It is the part of the race before the other part, before the run. I remember feeling like it was going well and then feeling like it was going poorly. And then, mercifully, it ended. 

I was pleasantly distracted throughout the first who-knows-how-many miles of the bike that wind through town. Ryan had resurrected the Canadian Tuxedo from Ironman Canada, which as far as I'm concerned is still his all-time best race outfit (despite the confusing mid-race moment when I had to acknowledge that my husband looks hot in cutoff's and a mullet). In-between the brief moments of people cheering, I remember feeling uncomfortably hot. Not necessarily because the air was really hot, but because my core temperature felt like it was already too high getting out of the 84 degree ocean.  

Then we headed out onto the Queen K and right away it was windy, I think. Mostly what I remember is that it felt hard. My legs weren't quite there with me on the way out to Hawi but I stayed engaged and focused on my fuel and hydration.  I actually felt like my core temperature came down after about 30-40 miles, which is about the time I noticed that my brake started making repetitive shhh noises. My shifting was a bit off from the beginning as well. I kept having to shift up twice and then down once to get it to go to the next gear up, which is not a thing that slows me down but is certainly annoying. I rode my bike a few times on the island leading up to the race and there were no signs of either of these things happening, but Pele doesn't usually send out cautionary signs. My athlete Casey passed me just before the turnaround and she recalled how she wanted to get off her bike and throw it into the lava fields back near Waikaloa. That really picked me up for a few miles. Mutual misery really is a temporary boost.  The last 30 miles of the bike course were exactly as unending as I remembered from the last time I raced here. 

When it gets dark for me in an Ironman - when I'm noticing an urge towards a way out of feeling and being in my body - I'm looking to be saved. By the finish line, by the clock, by surrender to the flow, by divine transcendence, or by whatever other options there are. And it's not that I'm looking to be saved from the pain, but by it. Or maybe more specifically, through it. The point is, I want to go further in, not to quit. 

Even though I thought about it on and off throughout the bike course, I was never going to quit. I am far too stubborn for that. And from a different angle, I am not yet free enough to be ok with that. 

My general rule of thumb, that I preach to all my athletes, is that you don't start drinking coke until the back half of the marathon because you don't want to have to experience the corresponding low that comes after a caffeine high. I tossed a water bottle and replaced it with a bottle of coke somewhere around mile 80 and never looked back. At the next aid station, I threw my aero bottle full of water off my bike for no other reason than fuck that water bottle. Another temporary boost.

~ Now please enjoy this brief intermission from the blog to appreciate Ryan's bike course performance, for which he recruited a few co-conspirators ~

Once I made it to transition, my legs felt just as heavy and terrible as they always do getting off the bike, which is never actually a sign that they'll feel bad during the marathon. Just a fun side effect of riding my bike for 112 miles. I put my bike woes behind me because the bike, in a similar way to the swim, is just the part of the race that comes after the other part that comes before the run. 

I've still never raced a marathon on it's own. I honestly don't know what the point of that would be since it feels so imperative to start the marathon in a state of exhaustion. It gets you right to the good stuff, which is exactly how it played out on this particular occasion. I had nothing in my legs on the first 8 mile out-and-back on Ali'i. I was trying as hard as I could to convince my body that it was actually fine, and that any minute now this whole no-energy thing would just go away. I told my coach that the part of the race that I was looking forward to most was the turn off Palani onto the Queen K (around mile 8). As much as I enjoy basking in the glorious distraction of the cheering and support on Ali'i, I don't come here to be distracted. I come here to be as fully present and alive as I can tolerate. That's what I understand the darkness to be. 

Around mile 10, I started to feel just a hint of lightness in my stride. I noticed that running uphill energized me and I looked forward to any slight increase in grade. I started to feel more like myself in the energy lab - that sultry wasteland part of the race with no spectators, just a parade of footsteps and the deathly silence of still air. I ran by my teammate Sarah on the way out of the energy lab who had seen me struggling back on Ali'i and she shouted a perfectly simple factual statement: "you're running." After the race, she and I discussed how only objectively truthful pronouncements of support can reliably provide positive reinforcement. Anything subjective may result in an athlete having to inadvertently attend to their suffering that they were doing a good job repressing until then. "You're doing well" or "you're looking good" is mostly false in the middle of an Ironman. Stick to unobjectionable things like, "you're doing it" or "there you are" or as Sarah's husband Brian did, just blow into your duck whistle.  

By the time I got to the hill near mile 23, I was in that beautiful state at the end of a race where everything hurts and none of it matters. I increased my speed and leaned in to my happy place for a bit. Those last few miles were the small window that I got to really enjoy doing what I love. I haven't felt that way in any of my races this year and I desperately missed it, as short-lived as it was. 

Generally speaking, it felt like the island wasn't impressed with this 2 day format, which came with an excess of people. I'm not talking about the locals not being impressed, I'm talking about the island herself. The day after the race, Casey mentioned to me that when she had asked Madame Pele for moderate weather, that Pele's response was, "No promises." Even Gustav Iden, right after winning a world championship, sat down with Mike O'Reilly and said something along the lines of "Fuck that - I'm never doing that again." Its hard to explain where this sentiment comes from because it wasn't just that it was a hard course with tough conditions. There was something more inherently demoralizing at work. 

Regardless, this race season has been disappointing. Yes, I'm grateful that I get to do this. Yes, this is a privilege. And whatever else I'm supposed to say before I elaborate on my actual feelings. After moving to California at the beginning of the year, I wasn't sure if I was going to do 70.3 Oceanside. The move turned out to be a nervous system overhaul that I was not prepared for. I jumped into group workouts as a pleasant distraction, which allowed me to lean on other people for motivation and structure. But I didn't do my build the way that I know I have to do it to be successful. I didn't start with a strength training base and I didn't build slowly and systematically. I sort of just threw myself into it, looking I suppose, to be saved by it.  

At the last minute I decided to race Oceanside, knowing I was under-prepared but wanting to feel something reminiscent of my previous life. It didn't go well. If you ever hear me say that I'm going to race "for fun" again, please punch me. 

After Oceanside, I backed off a bit, went on vacation, and then went right into the build for Ironman Alaska, which was a positive experience in so many ways that had nothing to do with how I actually raced. But I still had Kona. I still had another chance to find that elusive line between pain and pleasure that my body hungers for. But that wasn't the race I got. That wasn't the race I prepared for.

I still can't decide if I'm disappointed in myself that I couldn't show up for the part of the race that I usually pride myself on: my mental relentlessness. Usually I thrive when conditions are at their worst, but the fact is, I just didn't have the motivation for that. 

In her book, Tarot for Change, Jessica Dore interprets the 2 of wands as a benediction for engaging with emotions through aesthetics rather than morality. She says that we often stay stuck because we don't know how to cope with something not living up to a fantasy we had about it. 

I've become comfortable with diving into certain "negative" feelings. I've come a long way from the beginning of my athletic career where I relied on one of the most expertly constructed tools of a highly sensitive person: my ability to disassociate from all emotions and therefore to persevere through pain, without hardly even noticing it. But numbness comes at a high cost and slowly I learned how to invite my body into this living world so that I could renounce my estrangement from joy and pleasure. Gradually I've expanded into encompassing a few so-called "negative" emotions too - most poignantly, pain and suffering. In this world of endurance, we know at least in our minds, if not in our bodies, that suffering is generative. But there is still a long line outside the walls of my identity house for feelings like disappointment that I still feel more comfortable disassociating from. 

Jessica Dore goes on to say that when the only way you know how to deal with disappointment is to avoid it, you're at especially high risk of getting stuck because life is full of things not being what you thought they would be. 

So what do you do with disappointment as your shitty consolation prize at the end of a chapter? I hope you're not asking me. I certainly don't know the answer. But I'll tell you what I've been doing: I've been bathing in it, tasting it, breathing in its ghastly aroma. I've been running my fingers along its spine, clawing it with my fingernails, listening to it's minor key moaning and howling. Listening to Leonard Cohen. Resisting my urge to clean it up and force it to look on the bright side.  As the poet Hafiz says, "Don't surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut more deep. Let it ferment and season you, as few human or even divine ingredients can." 

I'm still here in the process of letting it cut more deep. I have no reason to rush, as it is spacious, salty, and fertile in this void. I'll stay here and continue bathing and breathing in this carnal musk until I grow tired and bored of my indulgent wallowing.  

Maybe you want to know if this helps but I don't think that whether or not it helps is a relevant or even an interesting question. Please don't rob me of this sensuous experience by asking if it helped. This is the darkness. This is the nature and the cost of learning to stay present. There is no salvation here. Just life and the painful and rapturous imperative to live it. 


New Bio, who dis?

As I've witnessed myself shift and change, I've been experimenting with some new coaching strategies. Most of my athletes know that ...