When I woke up at 4:30 this morning, I wasn't sure how my first official race of the Ironman season was going to fare. As is often the case with me, myriad thoughts ran rampant through my head, all vying for attention simultaneously:
- Would all this heart-rate mumbo-jumbo actually pay off?
- Have all the training hours actually transformed me into a better triathlete?
- Would the weekly trail runs in Agoura and Newbury Park harden my legs to better withstand the rigors of pavement running?
As I sit comfortably in my office chair at home, the answer is yes, I think so and definitely!
The morning and race itself was a blur. I attribute that to a mixture of grogginess, "runner's trance" and pure joy. Here are the highlights I recall:
Around 7:10 a.m., my Fortius teammates Mike and Karen arrived with me to the race starting area with about 30 minutes to spare before the starting gun. We carpooled together, which was atypical for me. Typically, I like to arrive much earlier to feel the race environment, feed off the crowd energy, get appropriately warmed up, and generally amped for the start. Mike's approach is different, and turned out to be beneficial. He likes to wait in the warmth of his car for as long as possible before taking the shuttle bus over, and then get loose just before the race start. I think I'm going to do that more often.
Despite the early morning chill (46 degrees around 6:30 a.m.), once I started jogging I immediately became warm and focused. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt with such little preparation compared to my normal routine.
In another big departure, I chose not to run with music. I wanted to see what it would be like to simply stay in touch with my breathing without distraction, figuring that the sound of 20,000 footsteps all around me would provide a symphony all its own. I loved it. I felt more connected to the race, and what I can only describe as a hive-mind mentality of thousands of people marching towards one goal simultaneously. Powerful stuff. Hence, "runner's trance."
As much as music can be a motivator, it can also isolate us from each other in the most engaging of moments begging to be shared with others.
On to the actual running. The sense of connectivity I felt with my surroundings and the experience at-large boosted my performance. I started the race more calmly. I maintained my zone 3 heart rate for much longer, and was able to drop it a little more easily when I crept upward. The result was that I grew stronger as the race progressed. My first three miles were at an 8:17 pace, followed by an 8:09 pace at the eight-mile marker.
My first indication that today might yield a good finish time came around the fourth mile, when I caught up to the 1:50:00 pace group. For the next three miles, it became a tantalizing game of cat-and-mouse, as I'd gently throttle up to the front of the group, only to drop back a ways after my heart-rate rose to a point beyond my race-day plan. I passed the 1:50 group unexpectedly, rounding a corner back onto Pacific Coast Highway. There was a water stop at the intersection and as I made the right turn, I couldn't see the 1:50 sign bobbing ahead as it had been. At first I thought I fell off the pace dramatically since there was traffic in the hydration area.
Then, I looked backwards.
It was at that moment I knew I was going to break my personal record.
The rest of the race became a gradual series of surprise and joy, as I waited in vain for my legs to lock up, or something bad to happen. Yet, as I continued toward the finish, I was growing stronger, faster and more confident. People whom I couldn't reach in the first part of the race were falling behind me. And it felt great. My only challenge was keeping my heart-rate under control not because of working too hard, but because I was just so damn excited! It ultimately became a game to see how much time I could shave off my previous PR (1:50).
I finished in 1:45:59, more than four minutes faster than last year's best result.
Then, I strutted (literally) down the finisher's corridor straight to the beer garden. There I met some new friends I've met via my twitter account (@theironmadman). Bob (@rcmcoach), Liana (@fittorrent) and Chris (@chrisschauble) were all on hand to congratulate me and each other for a great run. We combined forces with LA Tri Club and Fortius friends to make a larger celebration party (pictured). And merriment ensued.
Strangely enough, my race may not have been the biggest breakthrough of the day. As I watched the Super Bowl with my buddy Kevin and some other long-time friends, my thoughts drifted to my break-up. I was wondering what she was doing at that moment, where she was. And I was really frustrated. I've been fighting an inner war the past several weeks between two selves: The guy who still loved his girl, and the guy who sadly knew it was time to move forward and anew.
I couldn't figure out why I still wanted to be with her, and then it occurred to me in a true epiphany: When I'm not with her, my emotional core takes over. Sometimes I can't think clearly. All I see is her and what could have been. Yet, when I was with her, my practical self would rule, and that self could clearly see the challenges inherent in the relationship. Ultimately, that self won out.
In a healthy, stable relationship, both selves must be in alignment. When they're not, something is wrong.
I let out an audible sigh that must have been lost amidst all the cheers in the game. But this was a very big moment for me. I totally get it now. When I'm feeling a little low, now I know why I'm feeling low. It's not because I made a mistake in the relationship, it's simply because it's a natural emotional response to missing someone you care for. But it doesn't mean it's time to go back.
It's time to move forward. Even when it's hard to do so. But this realization makes it MUCH easier to do so.
So, today was also a personal PR for me. While I miss my ex-girlfriend greatly, I unburdened a big part of my past right there in that living room. And hopefully left it there.
Whomever said "To know thyself is to love thyself" is one smart dude.
My Ironman journey grows deeper and more soulful by the day. At the beginning, I was running towards a tangible finish line, but now the distance just continues to grow as the destination and route constantly changes.
289 days and counting.