You may remember my pal Dana’s race report on her DNF (Did Not Fail). Well, she made it to her Boulder Iron Man and she’s back on my blog to give a full–and inspiring–report. Here we go.
So, you did it! Congratulations, Dana. Tell us about your experience.
It all began in 1979 on the Appalachian Trail. I was six years old, fascinated with adventure, exploration, setting new challenges, the woods, gear (check out my first pair of Nike’s and puffy down jacket!), and of course keeping up with my big brother and his friends. Thirty-four years later, I find myself in similar circumstances of stepping outside of my comfort zone, exploring the unknown, embarking on new adventures, and learning what I “can” do versus what “I cannot.” I still try to keep up with the boys, and my obsession with gear continues. Here’s my post-race report of the Boulder Ironman (IM)—August 4, 2014. I had an incredible journey and learned more about my mental and physical capabilities as well as the power of “community” during my 13+hour adventure on the hot, dry, high altitude Boulder IM 140.6 mile course (2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run).
What was running through your head at the starting line?
Breathe, Focus, Deliver. I repeat that over and over in my head as I stare out over the Boulder Reservoir, watching the sunrise and trying to eye the 2.4-mile swim I will navigate today. The water is calm the sun is rising.
I head over to the couple thousand swimmers: men wearing green caps and women wearing pink caps. We are asked to place ourselves in the corrals based on anticipated swim time for the 2.4-mile swim. I have been swimming around 1:31 for that distance so I place myself with the 1:15-1:30 group, which happens to be a very large group of swimmers. I take a deep breath as I walk over. I find my friend Laurie, and a great calm comes over me as we stand together chit-chatting away about what life will hold after this IM (woohoo Laurie is getting married,). We talk about race day strategies, and we just stay close together as we wait since we are both smaller women and can’t see in front nor behind us. We were surrounded by many large men.
Slowly we are being pushed forward until we are next in line to take off for the swim leg of the race. We hear music blasting, and the announcer is getting the athletes psyched up to race. I hear a loud voice come through the microphone and yell, “Today you will be an Ironman.”
Really? I think. Here is that inner critic that I have been working on hushing. Will I be able to finish? I have had an incredible training season, no major setbacks and lots of solid preparation. I am feeling good. Yes, think positive. I will finish today and will finish strong. I start to focus on what could go right versus what could go wrong. My old cards would focus on the latter and I have worked really hard this past year on what will work, what will go right… dialing into that… mental skills training. I take a few steps forward as the crowd moves us to the swim start line. I look up and see hundreds of swimmers off to the first buoys. This is it, no turning back, right foot forward. Own this day, no matter what happens.
I take my first dunk into the water and off I go. I swim calmly, practicing my orienteering, checking out my surroundings, protecting myself and finding my line. Breathe, focus, deliver, breathe, focus, deliver. I look up every six strokes to make sure I am swimming in line towards the yellow buoys and not zig-zagging across the reservoir. I know once I hit the orange buoys, I will be at the halfway point. I come round the bend and see those orange buoys. Phew! I am “in” this. I am calm. I say to myself, Take your time, you have a long day ahead of you. I keep swimming and notice many pink caps around me. Strong women, you go girls. I notice a guy swimming right up to me, he isn’t passing or dropping back but swimming “on” me. I pull back so he can pass. I keep going and there he is again. I am not able to get my pace back as he keeps bumping into me and won’t go around, ahead or drop back. I try to move over more and there he is again. I stay patient and put in a few more strokes and then BAM, I get a swift kick in my stomach and get the wind knocked out of me. I swallow water and get pissed. “Come on buddy, find your line.” He yells back at me, “No, you find your line!” Am I really going to have an argument in the middle of the IM swim? Should my energy be spent on this? NO!
I try to catch my breath after getting the wind knocked out of me and just take another stroke, but AGAIN he elbows me. I decided there is no time for negotiation or providing feedback in the middle of the reservoir. It’s time to pick up my pace and get the heck out of there. As I take off, I take a fast, hard stroke, and I accidently, slammed my hand on top of his head, giving him a good dunk. I turned myself into a speedy minnow and get the heck out of there, and I never looked back. I get out of the water in 1 hour and 34 minutes. Pretty close to the 1:31 time I anticipated. I probably lost a few minutes due to the wind being knocked out of me and IM water brawl J.
What were the highlights of the experience for you?
I take off slower on the bike and plan to build up since I have 112 miles to ride and then later a marathon to run. A slow start makes sense to me. As soon as I’m on the bike, I kick into mountaineering mode (my first love) and go slow and steady, keeping myself in check. I stay my pace, my race and let the masses go ahead. I know my strategy will pay off later when I hit the 70-mile mark (where the race will really begin.) I spend the first few hours properly hydrating, fueling, and prepping for the remainder of the day. I feel intense happiness; I have a huge grin on my face. Its all coming together, today is my day, things are going as I envisioned earlier in the morning. I keep smiling and keep riding. I am enjoying this, I am not in pain, I am not suffering, I have trained hard and trained well and I am now feeling/experiencing those results.
I have now been riding for about 3 hours and start to notice many cyclists slowing up. I push my cadence and move. My engine starts revving. I am feeling good; I start to pass people—a lot of people. I am hitting the hills and hitting them hard and still feeling good. Of course, the inner critic shows up, telling me to slow down: “You shouldn’t go this hard; you’ll run out of fuel,” I hear inside my head. But I decide to throw the inner critic in front of my tire and keep going—even harder. I am riding.
I am having so much fun. I keep hearing this woman beside me yell at me, “GO GET IT!” Then she rides past me and screams, “Let’s do this, let’s get it girl!” She’s motivating me to push even more and I do. I pass her and cheer her on. She says “I’m Liz. What’s your name?” I introduce myself and spend the next hour seeing her ahead of me, climbing the hills. Sometimes I catch her climb in front. Sometimes vice versa. I never do any drafting, but I just start to see the same folks, and I keep them each in sight. Each time I pass another woman or they pass me, we all acknowledged each other and provide encouragement. This inaugural IM Bolder race is made up of only 25% women. It’s turning out to be a nice community of female athletes supporting one another versus competing against one another.
When I hit the 70-mile mark, I feel good and continue to ride. At 80 miles I keep going. 90 miles comes and goes. At 100 miles, I turn the bend and see a group of smiling faces and all of a sudden, I know these faces! It’s a group of my work colleagues (young women) who came out to cheer on the athletes. I get so excited I just start screaming at them and they at me, then I turn the corner and fly off. I got to see them for only a split second and that was it, but it was great motivation to see them.
At 100 miles, I know I have 12 miles to go. But I still have the famous “3 bitches” to climb. Yes, these last 3 climbs are called the “3 bitches.” I am sure you can imagine the steep climbs—and after cycling 100 miles already. I decide to envision this going well for me. Breathe, focus, climb, and now DELIVER. I take the first climb, stand up on my bike and nail it. I sit back down, get some hydration, and then go for it on the next climb, also nailing it.
For the past hour there’s a guy in an IM tri jersey passing me then dropping back. We are now on the 3 bitches together, and I pass him. He catches me on the flatter section before the final climb, and we repeat our magical dance until I make it to the top first. He catches me at the top and introduces himself as Marty from Texas. He says, “Young lady, you are one strong cyclist. I have been following you and letting you pace me for the past few hours. You’re climbing really strong.” This pumps me up, especially since I still have lots of fuel in my tank and know that the race is still just getting starting due to the fact that I have a full marathon awaiting me. Marty from Texas shouts to me, “Get out of here and give it all. You got to hit your time.” I thank him, wish him all the best and tell him that he too is looking strong.
Off I go, pushing hard for the last 6-miles. I love the camaraderie here! This is effin’ inspiring spirit! Where is my GO GET IT girl, Liz? I hope to see her again, to finish the bike leg together, but I never see her again (and I probably never will). But its women like Liz that make the race so special for me.
I roll into transition and hand my bike off to a volunteer and run into the changing tent. The transition zone is located on a hot asphalt track. I take off my cycling shoes to run quick but still burn my feet on the asphalt. It’s like running on hot coals before running a marathon!
Did you ever hit a wall or bump into trouble? What happened and how did you handle it?
For the run, I’d been training for 9:00-9:30 minute miles and had been consistent on hitting those targets. Now on race day as I begin the run, I immediately notice my stomach is acting up. I suddenly feel like I’m carrying a water balloon in my belly. I have to slow it up and begin at an 11 to 13 min/mile. I keep it slow and steady (mountaineer mindset) and figure I will pick up the pace later when I can… I’ll do negative splits—I’ve trained for that, so it’s okay.
At this point, I am 8 hours into my day and still have this marathon to do. I anticipate a 4:30 marathon, but realize that isn’t likely to happen when I’m starting slow. As the race goes on, I never do hit my pace time, although I remain steady. I choose to go with what my body needs.
The spectators along the marathon course are fantastic; it’s like a street party: cheering, signs, music, motivation, tears, joy. I saw it all—experienced all of it. Athletes beside me walked, limped, ran, jogged, and slogged. I make it into the first 6 miles of the race, turn around a bend, and see my husband Daniel (who is also participating in the event)! I shout out “Daniel, how are you? This is insane; we can run the rest of the marathon together!” He looks at me and tells me he is at the 20-mile mark. WHAT! I am so happy for him, but then it sinks in, I still have 20 miles to run HOLY SHIT! Daniel only has 6 miles to run. He says he has hit the wall and worried about the last 6 miles.
I look at him with no pity, “MOVE IT! You are crushing this course and only have 6 miles left before you’re DONE! You have already done 134 miles. Nail this. Don’t slow up for me.” I let him know how much I love him and trot off thinking, “Man I have 20 miles to go.” Just for a moment I feel negative, but I smack it out of me and envision what could go “right.” When my right calf muscle tightens up at about 130 miles into the day, I handle it with grace. No hitting panic buttons, just walk through the aide stations and do the best I can.
The run course was curvy, hilly, flat, odd. It makes me dizzy, but the spectators and fellow athletes made it so special. I hit my own 20-mile mark and look up to a huge movie sized screen and see and hear my husband Daniel rooting me on.
That was one of my “highs” during the race: to see Daniel up there cheering for me. My biggest supporter, fan, love of my life. The race organizers had these 15 second videos taped the day before dialed in with our timing chips, so when I ran over the 20-mile carpet, there was my husband on the big screen, motivating me to cross that finish line, a very special moment. I am so elated I just stand there until one of the race organizers yells to me, “Keep running. He’s waiting for you at the finish line.” That was the last motivation I needed to finish the final 6 miles of this race.
In my last mile it dawns on me, I have raced 139 miles today and I am still standing. I am really going to do this. I don’t want it to end; I want to hold onto this last mile. As I move forward, I high five every kid on that course. The kids were amazing, out there volunteering all day and supporting the athletes. I am now in the last half mile;I am beaming with a huge smile and really living “in the moment,” loving the day, the process, my life, and knowing I am seconds away from crossing the finish line. “Dana Platin, you are an Ironman.”
How did this experience change you as a person? What did you learn about you, your life, or your approach to life?
I am so results-oriented that it can take away from the journey, the process and the enjoyment. I challenged myself for this IM to “stay in the moment” and be focused the entire race. I struggle with that in daily life with so many tasks and distractions yet when I am in my element of racing, I go to one of the more peaceful places in my mind. That being said, all the physical pain and suffering is somewhat alleviated, does that make sense? I had the biggest smile on my face throughout the rough patches during the day and several people commented on how happy and fresh I appeared. I had my targets and process goals on what times I wanted to achieve, and I was an hour off of my run and 10 minutes over on my transition times. That’s ok. I had such a blast and just learned to love the culture, community, and energy of the IM; I stepped out of myself and was part of a bigger community. I love racing IM as it keeps me in check.
#1—consistency and training will equate to success,
#2—you must keep a good attitude “no matter what,” and regardless of the results you must focus on what you did do right versus all that went wrong.
#3—learn from what went wrong, make adjustments, tweaks, and changes for the future.
I learned that I am quite capable and mentally stronger than I ever thought. The mind is so powerful, and when our physical capabilities are tapped out, a positive mind will carry you forward. I learned that I can run with my soul when my feet are tired.
What encouragements or thoughts would you offer to others who might decide to go on some kind of huge life-altering journey such as you have done?
There is never a perfect time, you can start “today.” Everyone has their own Mt. Everest. It can be a little mountain next to their house or a 5km race 2 months away. Whatever it may be, get started today. Don’t wait until you lose weight or until the summer comes. Pick your “life-altering journey” and get started. Once you decide, put some smaller goals out there to take you to that bigger end goal. Sort of like a road map. Start with the date of the goal date and work backwards. What needs to happen each day in order to achieve this? Write it out, have fun with it. Once you have it written out, it’s time to put it into action. Get started. The most important thing is to enjoy the process and the journey; reaching the goal is a celebration. And like my new friend “Liz” said, “GO GET IT!”
Join me in congratulating Dana in this awesome accomplishment! And let’s all take her advice and GO GET IT–whatever “it” may be for each of us!!!