Two weeks after Ironman Boulder, during a leisurely bike ride around Lake Hefner, I finally felt like I could close the chapter on a race that wouldn’t let me go.
Ironman Boulder was the first time in my endurance sports “career” that I left a race feeling like I came up short. It’s the first time I walked away from an event with so many questions and not many answers. It’s the first time I felt like I underperformed and didn’t meet my pre-race expectations. In fact, I really struggled to write this blog because I wasn’t sure how to put it on paper without sounding ungrateful or like a whiner. My hope with this blog is to remind myself, and everyone reading it, that completing an endurance event is special. It’s not always about the numbers staring back at you on your Garmin or the race clock above your head. It’s not always about setting a personal best or nabbing a podium spot. It’s about the journey we take along the way that really matters the most. In fact, every time we start a race and cross a finish line, the effort is worthy of a smile, a nod of recognition, and an understanding that what we just did was special.
Five and a half years ago, I fell in love with endurance sports. What started out as an innocent goal of running a half marathon has now blossomed into a lifestyle of pushing my physical limits and striving to become better; faster; stronger. It was this drive and hunger that ultimately left me confused and searching for answers after my race in Boulder.
As with many people who start out in the sport, I’ve been spoiled the last few years; setting new PRs and continually improving my overall fitness. It had almost become an expectation that each race would be better than the last. In my mind, August 3, 2014, was not going to be any different. Training had gone really well leading up to the race and my early season results were pointing to a very good day for me. I had lofty goals. I had high expectations. I felt confident. That’s when the reality of Ironman Boulder punched me in the gut and made me like it. It’s when my body decided that August 3rd wasn’t going to be that kind of day and I was going to have to dig deep to keep moving. It was when so many people near and dear to my heart were standing along Boulder Creek path waiting for me with looks of concern, hugs of condolence, and cheers to keep moving — as they knew I was having a bad day. It was when I had to plod through an Ironman marathon and wonder where I had went wrong and what I might have been able to do to fix it. It was 12 hours and 49 minutes later when I crossed the Ironman Boulder finish line that I had to take a step back and appreciate the effort, regardless of the time on the clock.
I’m not going to lie and say it was easy to accept what happened that day. Boulder left me with a feeling I hadn’t felt before and I wasn’t exactly sure how to handle it. In one sense, I was grateful and elated to have finished a race that wasn’t so kind to 250 of my other Ironman friends that day. In the other sense, I was disappointed my day hadn’t turned out the way I had planned. A year’s worth of focus, a year’s worth of time, a year’s worth of energy, a year’s worth of commitment that didn’t meet my expectations.
Talk about a tough pill to swallow.
Ironman racing can be very cruel. You don’t get second chances to make your wrongs a right. You get one day. You get one day that you focus on for nearly a year. YOU ONLY GET ONE DAY.
And that’s where it turned for me. All that negative energy and time spent thinking about what I didn’t do suddenly became a beacon of hope and gratitude. Pedaling along Lake Hefner I started to realize how fortunate I was to race Ironman Boulder and share it with so many of my family and friends. Nine people decided to pack their bags and travel to Boulder to spend their day waiting and watching for me to appear in the distance. Hundreds of people watched from afar via the internet and social media – constantly tracking my progress throughout the day and hoping I was doing okay. For one day, I was their focus; their energy; their motivation. For one day, I could do no wrong. No matter what happened to me that day I was already a winner in all of their eyes. The messages, comments, texts, phone calls, and conversations I’ve had since Ironman Boulder all reminded me of one thing: the only person who was even remotely concerned about my time was me. The rest of my Ironman crew was just proud to call me their son, their brother, their nephew, their uncle, their cousin, or their friend.
For one day, I got to swim, ride, and run for 140.6 miles. For one day, I chased my dream to become an Ironman again. For one day, I pushed my body to keep moving when all it wanted to do was quit. On that one day, I succeeded.
Now as I sit and reflect on my race, I come away with an appreciation for how far I’ve come and how much further I feel I can go. My day in Boulder will go down in my race history as a race that built character and prepared me for the many races ahead. It made me realize how much I love the Ironman distance and the patience it takes to become better at it. It continued to peel away layers of weakness and doubt that plague me when I get comfortable. It exposed a soul that is hungry for more and can’t wait for the next challenge. It rekindled a fire to be better than the old me, not only in sport, but in life. Most of all, it made me appreciate the gifts I’ve been given: the gift of health; the gift of life; and the gift of amazing family and friends. These gifts truly make me appreciate every effort, regardless of the numbers on the clock.
Keep fighting my friends.
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