7 September 10: It happens to all of us . . .

by hillarybiscay

A couple of days ago I was having a chat with a young friend who raced at Ironman Louisville last week, and I wanted to share a little bit about our chat because I have a handful of friends who, like him and me, had disappointing races that weekend. However, most of these friends are not professional triathletes and thus don’t have the luxury of jumping into another ironman in two weeks’ time. They have been training for months—maybe even a full year—“for this race,” be it Ironman Canada or Ironman Louisville. So, understandably, when their best-laid ironman plans go awry, it is difficult not to be very disappointed. Bummed. Depressed, even.

My friend was one of these people. He is a college student who had invested all of his free time and resources this year in his Ironman Louisville project. That is, this was the one race that he could afford to enter all year—last I checked not many college students have the money lying around to fund multiple $600 ironman entries. But he had done his first ironman in Madison last year and was hooked; this year he took his dedication to another level. His training partners had reported back to me about how well he was going in his workouts, and he had transformed his body to the extent that I didn’t recognize him when I first saw him in Louisville.

Sadly, his day in Louisville ended with a couple of IV bags at mile seventy of the bike course—not the way any of us had imagined. A few days later, I was trying to help my very sad friend figure out the “what next?” One of his comments to me was, “I dedicated my entire summer to this race and now I feel like I have just wasted so much time.”

I completely understood why he was feeling this way; it is the obvious, immediate emotional response to the situation. However, I thought it was very important that he understand that his interpretation of the situation was not the reality—and I wanted to share my perspective here in case any of my other friends might be feeling frustrated like my young friend was.

What my friend needed to know was this: work does not disappear. No, he didn’t get to cash in his chips in Louisville as he had planned, but he still owns them! If he keeps working, he just accumulates more, and earns himself a bigger payday the next time he toes the line. The way I explained it to him was this: if he had trained himself to the level of a 40-minute PR in Louisville (very likely, in his case), and he keeps working another year, well maybe instead of a 40-minute PR this year and another 30-minute PR next year, he  gets to cash in all of those chips for a 1:10 PR at his next ironman.

I added a personal example just in case he didn’t just take my word for it : I was once a starving graduate student, taking out student loans to pay for new bikes and trips to ironman races. Back in those days, I could only afford 1-2 ironmans per year as well—heck, I couldn’t actually afford any, but you get what I mean . . .

In the med tent after a looooooong day in Louisville last week–already smiling, though, because I am reading twitter updates and “watching” Meredith crush it at Ironman Canada!

In 2004, I had two ironmans on my schedule: Ironman New Zealand and Ironman Hawaii. This was presumptuous because I hadn’t yet qualified for Hawaii, but having done so in the two previous years, another age group spot seemed realistic. I had a friend write up a training program for me over the winter—the first time ever I had volunteered to subject myself to any kind of structure. I followed it to the letter, training every free second I had in between my studies (okay, skipping studies so I could train more), and saw some pretty big improvements. I was so intent on seeing this project through til the end that I carried on running and traveled to New Zealand for the ironman even though I was not right.

I had a funky feeling in my left leg  that had me barely able to run by the day before the race. Long story cut short, I did run the race until my hip broke. Then I crawled and dragged my leg behind me. Finally, with a heartbreaking 1.5 miles to go, I was forcibly removed me from the race course by the head race doc. I returned home to the States –with much assistance—and had surgery to screw my femur back together.  This was mid-March.

I spent two months not walking and another two not running. My goal in my recovery was to do another ironman by year’s end—but how? Hawaii-qualifying was out of the question and age groupers couldn’t just jump into ironman races. I would have to turn pro to gain entry to Ironman Florida in November, if I was ready (I had already met the rather-lenient qualifying standards for a pro card but had been waiting til I had got fast enough to be competitive as a pro.).

Just over seven months after breaking my hip and having it surgically fixated, I took the plunge. I was able to finish right in the middle of the pro field in Florida and set a 40-minute ironman PR. What I explained to my friend was that I surely did not squeeze a 40-minute PR’s worth of work into those couple of months that I had to train properly before this event. I had likely done most of it over the winter in preparation for Ironman New Zealand. I just didn’t get to cash in my chips that day in Taupo.

So I just wanted to remind all of my friends who didn’t have their day at this summer’s race to KEEP AT IT. By now, hopefully you have had a bit of down time, so go ahead and get back in the saddle. It will make you feel better, and there are more chips to be earned!

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