Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hitting the Wall

The 2009 Hawaii Ironman is now a thing of the past. It's been a long journey and one that I will never forget. I've grown as a person and athlete this year in more ways than I could've imagined and it will transfer in positive ways to whatever path I follow in life from now on.

People have always spoken of the "deamons" faced during IM. Honestly, I had never gone through those before. I had experienced debilitating pain, some lows, but never tremendous mental hurdles until today. Ironman is truly a humbling experience. It is a race that does not give a damn how hard you've worked, how much you want it, or how much you have placed on this one day. It will strike you when you least expect it- and it is not a dazzling experience.

The day-
I was a little concerned when I lined up at the pier race morning and thought "this is it? This is what I've worked so hard for? Why can't I get that same beginner's excitment, anticipation, and motivation? Why when my immigration status, career expectation in sport, and payback to my family, sponsors, and friends for their unrelenting care and support, is banked on this can I not muster a bit more fire inside me?"
Things started to get a bit better in the "it's go time, get it done" department once the fun went off. My swim was solid, I was happy to exit in relatively good standing. I did discover, however, that as you improve your swim, you're exposed to a more agressive group of swimmers- namely those that seem to try and prove their cage fighting skills every time we near a bouey. Thankfully I got out injury free.

Onto the bike, the plan was to race according to power so as to have my best possible run. I was hesistant to follow this strategy for weeks leading into the race, but decided that my coach who's been in this sport much longer than I have even knwon about triathlon, knows best. Every other Ironman, and race in fact, I've biked according to perceived exertion. In some ways, I believe this method works best for some people, myself included. I'll never know and woulda shoulda couldas are just that, predictions of what will never be possible of proving. I lost the AG win by 90 sec, could that have been made up in the initial 5-10 miles of the bike where I went at below training pace watts (which I otherwise never would have done)? That will haunt me forever.
Anyway, my legs felt a little flat up until the 2hr mark it's usual for me to not get into the groove of things until 3ish hrs into the race, I get stronger with time so that was all going as usual. I found my bike legs and continued at a steady pace wanting to push harder, but being "smart" for the sake of the run. I got to Hawi turnaround at 3 and change. I figured since the way back would be around 2:30-2:45 which would put me right where I expected to bike. It was hot, which I was loving, and there were zero crosswinds. People always love to say there were lots of crosswinds at Hawi to make the race sound even more brutal- there wasn't- it was an uneventful Hawi day. BUT....once at the right turn onto the Queen K, helloooo headwind. Suddenly I realized it was going to be a long ass bike. What I didn't expect was to be the only one who basically can't handle a headwind. I figured the other girls would have a slow bike. Uhhm, nope just me :) and a pathetic one at that. 20min slower than my bike here 2 yrs ago with much better fitness, and almost 40min slower than in AZ.

Into transition I was petrified when I stepped off the bike and my knee was killing me. I thought that was it, I'd probably make it 3 miles of the run, if that, and have to stop. As soon as I got my Newtons on and hit the pavement though, the knee pain was non existent- the only blessing of the day. Once again, I repeated my classic rookie mistake of leaving my salt tablets in T2. So when I reached for my salt tabs 2miles into the run- I discovered I was going to have to run the marathon without salt.

That added large insult to injury for this was a run I did not want to be running. It sounds horrible and I felt like I was taking this race for granted given the thousands who try to qualify for this event every year and have the honor of racing on such historic grounds, but all I wanted to do was stop, not walk to the finish, but pull into a corner and hide from the world and myself forever. My legs felt ready to run and my mind was in a complete breakdown.

Making things worse, was the seeing girls I had no intention of ever being behind far far ahead on the out and back on Alii. I had so much ground to make up and on top of that my usual spark of competition was completely missing. I kept thinking "great, just waiting for the goose bumps and the cramps to start, please somebody drop some salt tabs on the ground. Oh there's a corner I could pull into and just fade away from the race, but then I'd have to report my quiting decision to the race officials. My parents and step dad gave so much for me, I can't stop now, this is no longer for me just keep running for them. I owe them the finish. Just move forward and shut up!"

At the base of Palani I was on pace for roughly a 3:20, from then on I started to get very cold, goosebumps all over. My pace slowed into the 8s. At the energy lab I saw my coach and brother, that helped keep me from humbling myself to a walk. I stopped to pee at the turnaround in the energy lab and found a salt tab on the ground upon exiting. I swallowed it with some spit and don't remember much more of that stretch. At mile 23 my coach let me know that 1st place was only over a minute ahead and walking aid stations. Well so was I but I know I was running much faster. At mile 25 she was right in my sight but the final rush of adrenaline sped her up like it does everyone, and I ran out of real estate.

So that's that. 2nd place, light years slower and tens of places down the list than what I had fully expected, . Now I'm left with my haunting thoughts and only my coach, sometimes my mom, and myself knowing what I was capable of. It kind of sucks, but I threw this onto myself and am now paying for it.

Wednesday I head back home, trying to find a job before the Holidays roll around and companies stop hiring until the beginning of 2010. Given the economy it will be hard to find a company willing to hire an entry level person without a masters who they need to sponsor a visa for. Most will intelligently pick the American who can go on payroll at no extra legal cost. It's that or back to my country, where I haven't lived since I was 3, and where I cannot train without risking getting mugged for something as simple as my wheel skewers. I doubt a judge would grant me an athlete's P1 visa, and if he/she were to be so open minded, my family doesn't deserve nor are they financially equipped to keep funding what seems to be a fruitless journey in sport.