I put so much pressure on myself in the year leading up to my first ironman. Somewhere in the middle of training I broke down when it literally became too much. I was curled up in bed sobbing, hiccuping hysterically following a morning where I had attempted to fit in a five hour ride prior to a flight to Nashville for a bachelorette party. My alarm went off at a time that started with a 4 and my day continued to plummet from there. All my meticulous planning went down the drain, as the skies unexpectedly drenched me, a monster of a dog chased me and weirdos appeared around every corner of an otherwise deserted 5AM ride. I felt so unsafe and rattled that I resigned myself to finishing the remaining four hours at Hains Point; boring was better than mauled. I arrived at Hains Point to find it flooded; the world did not want me to ride that day. I was broken. I had tried so hard to diligently get my training ride in before a weekend of fun, but it didn’t happen. I was a failure and I would fail at ironman.
This was rock bottom, a culmination of weeks of frustrations and no improvements, but it helped me realize that I was being too hard on myself. From there on out I made every effort to not let ironman rule my life. If I wanted wine, I drank it; if I stayed up until 10PM, I didn’t beat myself up about it. I ate cupcakes, drank champagne and listened to my body. Operation fun was in effect. (Yes, that is actually what I called it.) Ironman was still desperately important to me, but I needed to find balance. Workouts remained a top-level priority, but so did life. If I gained a pound or three between June and race day, I would live. Oddly enough I dropped 5 pounds in the month and a half leading up to the race without trying or glancing at a scale during those weeks.
Sometimes I would catch myself slipping back towards my high pressure, low fun self and I would take a moment to regroup. I will probably always need to be reminded to chase the fun in life and in ironman. I can’t help but think that the universe conspired on race day to strip me of all expectations to allow the totality of the experience wash over me. Instead of glancing at my watch stoically to check my times, I was free to no longer care. Sickness and flat tires had a cruel, but rewarding way of bringing me down so that I had nowhere to go but up. Time goals went out the window with my pitiful, punctured race wheel so why not relish the experience? I suffered during training, more mentally than physically, but that provided a base that allowed me to persevere on race day.
Now I return to the struggle: I want to go faster next year, a lot faster. I want to take large steps toward reaching my potential, but the trick will be balancing that with the fun. Operation fun, take two.