Breathe, Focus, Deliver, I repeat 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. I think about how after I swim the distance I will need to convert my sea legs to cycle 112 miles followed by a 26.2 mile run on the hot, dry, windy, high altitude terrain of Boulder, Colorado. I share with you my post-race report of the Boulder Ironman (IM) that I raced almost one year ago in August 2014. I had an incredible journey and learned more about my mental and physical capabilities as well as the power of “community." I learned what I “can” do versus what “I cannot" by taking calculated risks, stepping outside of my comfort zone, and exploring the unknown.
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 was swimming around 1 hour and 31 minutes for that distance so I placed myself with the 1:15-1:30 group, which happened 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 life after this IM (woohoo Laurie is getting married,) race day strategies and we just stay together as we are both smaller women and couldn’t see in front nor behind us as we were surrounded by many larger sized men. We were slowly being pushed forward next in line to take off for the swim leg of the race. We hear music blasting and the announcer getting the athletes psyched up to race. I hear a loud voice come through the microphone yell “Today you will be an Ironman.” Really? There’s 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 real hard this past year on what will work, what will go right and 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 and 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 knew once I hit the orange buoys, I would 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 nor dropping back but swimming “on” me. I pull back so he can pass. I keep going and there he is again. I was not able to get my pace back as he kept bumping into me and wouldn’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. “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 was trying to catch my breath after getting the wind knocked out of me and just took another stroke and AGAIN he elbowed me. I decided there was no time for negotiation nor providing feedback in the middle of the reservoir and it was time to pick up the pace and get the heck out of there. As I went to take off, I took a fast, hard stroke, and I accidently, slammed my hand on top of his head and gave him a good dunk. I turned myself into a speedy minnow and got out of there and never looked back. I get out of the water in 1:34 minutes. Pretty close to my 1:31 time that I anticipated and probably lost a few minutes due to the wind being knocked out of me and my IM water brawl J.
What were the highlights of the experience for me? The bike…I take off slower on the bike and plan to build up as I have 112 miles to ride and then later a marathon, makes sense to me. I kick into mountaineering mode (my first love) and go slow and steady and keep 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 first 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 am now riding about 3 hours and notice many cyclists slowing up. I start to push my cadence and move. My engine is now 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. The inner critic shows up, telling me to slow up, you shouldn’t go this hard, you’ll run out of fuel, I decide to throw the inner critic in front of my tire and keep going and go even harder. I am riding. I am having so much fun and I keep hearing this woman 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 move 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 climbing the hills and then I catch her, and I climb and vice versa. Never any drafting, yet you just start to see the same folks out there and keep them in sight. Each time, I passed another woman or they passed me, we all acknowledged each other and provided encouragement. It was something that stood out to me during the IM race as women made up only 25% of all the athletes on this inaugural IM Boulder course. It was a nice community of female athletes supporting one another versus competing against one another.
I hit the 70-mile mark, and feel good and continue to ride. 80 miles keep going, 90 miles, 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, I turn the corner and fly off. I got to see them for a split second and that was it, regardless it was great motivation to see them. I am at 100 miles; I know I have 12 to go. I still have the famous “3 bitches” to climb, yes the 3 climbs are called the “3 bitches” I am sure you can imagine the steep climbs and even more challenging after cycling 100 miles. I decide to envision this going right. Breathe, focus, climb, and now DELIVER. I take the first climb, stand up in my bike and nail it, I sit back down, get some hydration and do the next climb, also nailed it. For the past hour there’s a guy in an IM tri jersey passing me, and then dropping back. We are now on the 3 bitches together and I pass him, he catches me on the flatter section before the next climb and we repeat our magical dance and I make it to the top first and then he catches me at the top. He introduces himself as Marty from Texas. He says “Young lady, you are one strong cyclist, I have been following you and having you paced me for the past few hours, you are climbing real strong.” I am getting pumped and continue to enjoy, still have lots of fuel in my tank and know, the race is still just starting as I have a 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 that he too is looking strong and he’s got this! Off I go, I take it up a notch, pushing hard, 6-miles to go. I noticed there was so much camaraderie amongst the athletes especially the woman, a culture of support and cheering one another on. I loved it, this was community, this was the spirit and this was effin’ inspiring! Where was Liz the one screaming GO GET IT! I was hoping to see her again, to finish the bike leg together but I never did see her again and I probably never will. But its women like Liz that makes the race so special.
I roll into transition and hand my bike off to a volunteer and have to run into the changing tent. The transition zone is located on a hot asphalt track, I take off my cycling shoes to run quicker and burn my feet as the asphalt was like running on hot coals!
What was my greatest challenge? What happened and how did I handle it? For the run, I was training for 9:30-9:00 minute mile and was consistent on hitting those targets. I began the run and notice my stomach was acting up and I just felt like I was carrying a water balloon in my belly. I slow it up and begin at an 11-13 min/mile. I keep it slow and steady (mountaineer mindset) and figure, I will slow it up now and pick up the pace later…do my negative splits that I have so well trained for. Well it’s an IM and a long day; I am 8 hours into my day and still have a marathon. I anticipated 4:30 marathon but realized that wasn’t going to happen as by starting slow, I never hit my pace time, I somewhat remained slow and steady and just chose to go with where my body was at that day and things were still going to be “right.” I run along the race course and the spectators were fantastic, it was like a street party, cheering, signs, music, motivation, tears, joy, you saw it all, you experienced it all. People walking, people limping, people running, people jogging, people slogging. I have made it into the first 6 miles of the race. I turn the bend and see my husband Daniel who is also racing the IM! I shout out “Daniel, how are you? This is insane; we can now run the rest of the marathon together!” He looks at me and lets me know 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 explains 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 and will be DONE! You have already done 134 miles, nail this and don’t slow up for me. “ I let him know how much I love him. I trot off thinking; man I have 20 miles to go and start to get negative. Then I smack it out of me and envision what could go “right.” I continue to pull myself through the course and come up to some complications with my right calf muscle tightening up at about 130 miles into the day; that’ll do it and I handle it with grace. No hitting panic buttons, just walked through the aide stations and did the best I could do running the rest. The run course was curvy, hilly, flat, odd, it could make you 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 routing 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. He was taped the day before and the race organizers had these 15 second videos 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 was elated, just standing there, one of the race organizers yells to me, “keep running and know that’s who’s waiting for you at the finish line.” Now, that was my motivation to finish the final 6 miles of this race. I go, and just keep going. I am at 25 miles and have one mile to go. I am in my last mile, I have raced 139 miles today, I am still standing, and I am going to do this. I didn’t want it to end; I wanted to hold onto that last mile. As I move forward, I was high fiving 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 just “in the moment” loving the day, the process, my life and knowing I am seconds away from crossing the finish line, I hear my name over the microphone…“Dana Platin, you are an Ironman.”
What’s my assessment of my training? What did I feel I did just right and what will I do differently next time?
I trained 6 days a week with a combination of speed swim trainings, strength swim trainings, long distance swims, speed work on the bike, climbs on the bike, speed work with my runs, hill training with the runs as well as long distance runs. Some days, I would combine the biking and running. Moving forward, I will swim with a masters swim group in order to push my pace and do more running track workouts with my triathlon club. When I swim and run on my own, I stay within my comfort zone and don’t push hard enough. Yet, on the bike, I have made some amazing breakthroughs and am riding stronger ever. The Boulder IM bike course was no flat, fast ride; it was a nice challenge and had me “working” hard the entire time, I was pleased with my performance on the bike. I am also dialed into my nutrition and consider that the 4th discipline of triathlon. I have been working with a sports nutritionist throughout this journey and have learned about the difference between daily nutrition and training nutrition and proper fueling. I wouldn’t change a thing with my nutrition as that has been working real well. I had several races over the past 6 months leading up to the IM my “A” race. I will continue to use smaller races as a strategy to lead up to my bigger races as it helps me both physically and mentally to prepare.
How did this experience change me as a person? What did I learn about myself, my life, or my 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 goal on what time 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, that #1, consistency and training will equate to success, #2, you must keep a good attitude “no matter what” and regardless of the results, focus on what you did do right versus all that went wrong. Yet learn from what went wrong, make adjustments and tweaks and changes for the future.
I learned that I am quite capable and mentally stronger than I ever thought. That the mind is so powerful and when our physical capabilities are tapped out, that a positive mind will carry you forward. That I can run with my soul, when my feet are tired.
What encouragements or thoughts could I offer to others who might decide to go on some kind of huge life-altering journey such as I have done?
There is never a perfect time, and waiting for that perfect moment may take years. What can you do “today” to get you started on that path? Everyone has their own Mt. Everest, it can be a little hill climb next to their house or a 5km race months away. Whatever it may be, get started today. Don’t wait until you lose weight or until the season changes, pick your “life-altering journey” and get started. Once you decide, map put some smaller goals 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!”