Another Kona has come and gone, and it’s hard to believe that I have now done this race three times (2010, 2011 and 2012). I guess that come 2013, if I return, I can no longer call myself a ‘newbie’ to Ironman Hawaii can I? Damn, there goes one excuse! It’s an interesting dynamic that even if this is not your one and only ‘big’ race of the season, it seems that everything essentially revolves around it. It’s the marker for most things. I have frequently found myself saying ‘before Kona’ or ‘after Kona’ throughout the season. After two weeks of much reflection and digestion of how the day unfolded, I figured I would take a slightly different approach to my race report on this one. I was out riding today in Austin and I tried to think of three words that can describe my rather long day out there getting pounded to a pulp by Madame Pele. Here is what I’ve come up with.
1) Disappointment. Yep, I am going to be honest here and not sugar coat anything. I don’t intend to sound negative, just honest and pragmatic about the situation. I think it’s safe to say that going into Kona, I had put together the best season of my 11 years as a professional. While I had many other important races, the majority of my training was designed to be successful in Kona. I felt prepared. I had a big goal, but I believed it to be a realistic one. I felt like I’d left no stone unturned. Race morning and even race week, I found myself more relaxed (which is almost always a good sign for me) and genuinely excited than I had ever been before an Ironman. I was bursting at the seams. It had been almost a full year since my last Ironman, and I knew my fitness was better than a year ago. I figured the potential was huge! Sure I knew it’d be a tough day, but I like tough; it becomes mental then, and I love the mental battle. One of my favorite phrases is a ‘good swift kick in the ass’ and that is precisely what I got out there. Why? I don’t know. What went wrong? We’re not entirely sure. The problem was solely the bike, which tends to be a nasty little bugger of a challenge that I cannot seem to shake. I know I’ve had more good than bad bike legs this year, however, Kona unfortunately was a season lowlight on the bike. This all goes to show us what we know; no matter how well prepared you feel, how relaxed you are, how many ‘good signs’ you seem to have… on race day, it doesn’t matter. What matters is putting it together, and some days, it just doesn’t come together; no matter how badly we want it to. I knew as I hit the final 30 miles that it would be bad. I didn’t cry, though I wanted to. I was angry with myself, but I tried not to be. Those final 30 miles, I am fairly sure I was ahead of no more than a handful of pro women. It hurt; it hurt my ego, and it didn’t seem fair. But one thing I told myself was “Swallow your damn pride Kelly and keep pedaling. Some days just suck; get over it.” Once I finally limped my feeble self into town, the next self talk was “Run a sub-3 hr marathon and make something good of this!”
The positive? Out of disappointment, we become stronger; we learn more about ourselves. We learn how deeply we can dig when all is stacked against us. We ask the hard questions about what went wrong; we reflect on what we can do better. I’ve learned far, far more from the disappointing races than I ever have the good ones. Without disappointment, we have no opportunity for growth.
2) Gratitude. Numerous times out there, I thought of all I had to be thankful for. 9 hrs and 45 minutes is a lot of time to think. I thought of the many notes and emails I had received from friends and family (and friends I don’t know) wishing me good luck and telling me that they were already proud of me. I thought of all those generous people who had donated to my Can Do MS fund; we raised over $11,000; my performance today would not change that fact; already, much good had been done. I thought of my Aunt Sandy, who has MS, and tells me that she is that little angel on my shoulder when things get tough. I thought of the numerous great races I had had this season. I thought of my parents who came out to support, as they have every year in Hawaii (and most races!)… and how awesome of a chance it is to spend a week with them in Hawaii. I thought of my husband who has been on this journey with me every step of the way; without Derick, I’d not have the privilege of even being here. I thought of how fortunate I am to even be ABLE to do this great sport. Perspective, even in the heat of battle, is a good thing. Even when emotions run high and that dreaded feeling of ‘failing’ is on the horizon, I always try to gain some realistic perspective on the situation. Much to be thankful for.
3) Resilience. And here is the big one. This came to me within hours upon finishing. Thanks to good old Merriam-Webster, resilience = the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation, caused especially by compressive stress. My interpretation of this is the ability to bounce back from failure; the ability to not be defined by a beat down; the ability to lift your chin up just a bit and say, ‘not today…you may try to break me, but try as you may, I’m not breaking.’ This concept was what got me through the day. I came into this expecting to do well; planning to do well, prepared to do well. Coming off the bike after 5 hrs and 40 minutes, it was embarrassing. I know everyone had bad days, but I have been working to prove to myself that I AM a good cyclist; that I CAN bike well for 112 miles. And here I was, slapped in the face with precisely what has sat uneasy with me for two years now (ever since my first time in Kona)…another bad bike split. And as much as I wanted to curl up in a corner and feel sorry for myself as I dismounted into T2, I said to myself “Come on Kelly. It’s done, move on. Run a sub-3 hr marathon and make something good out of this day. It’s not over. You do NOT quit just because it’s not going great.” I could not bear the thought of quitting out of embarrassment or the ‘fear’ of a bad result. So off I went. I shot out of there like a bat out of hell and ran for broke. I gave the run all I had in me right from the start; I didn’t even try to pace myself; I didn’t have the time to do so. And, I clawed my way back into the Top 15. Not the Top 5, like I had envisioned; not even the Top 10, which I imagined would be an “ok” day. But the one thing I’ve learned as an athlete is we give it what we’ve got, at the moment, on the day; and that, I had done.
Where a race like this gets really difficult is those few days afterwards. Within 24 hours, you’re so tired and glad that it is over, you don’t really feel much emotion; eh, bad race, so it goes. I always find however that it’s the next 1-2 weeks when the emotional roller coaster begins. You beat yourself up over it, you ask what went wrong; you ask how could that have happened when you worked so hard. You feel angry one minute, yet indifferent the next. This is when the resilience becomes important. I realized that I’ve had a great (and long) season… a 1:14 half marathon back in January, three 70.3 wins, two 70.3 seconds including the World Championships; and some great success at the Olympic distances as well. I feel as if it would be very selfish of me to walk away from the season disappointed, having had so many successful races; you cannot let one race define you, be it good or bad. I’ll digest it and learn from it. I’ll take some much needed down time, rest, re-focus and look forward. I will be resilient.