Why I love my athletes

Posted: October 28, 2010 in KestrelBlog

This is from Dede Greisbauer’s Blog. Understand that I’m proud of her for never quitting and HI IM was a difficult race for her but she kept coming.

This is a race report that is difficult to write.

It’s always easier to jot down your thoughts after a good race; thoughts about how strong you felt, how fast you were able to go, how you may have struggled at times, but how you overcame to have a result you were proud of…..

This is not that. I left for Kona on September 12, nearly a month ahead of race day. I was the fittest I’d ever been in my life; which is something I don’t say lightly. This body of mine has trained a lot of hours in its (gulp) 40 years; be it as a competitive swimmer, a marathon runner, a cross country cyclist, or, as an Ironman athlete.

While I was fit, I was far from over-confident. The Ironman World Championships; well, it’s just a different kind of Ironman. Never mind the competition, which is ridiculous, but the island itself; it will do what it pleases with you. It doesn’t care who you are, how hard you’ve worked or how successful you’ve been in the past.

Still, going into the race, I felt good. I was able to train on the course for several weeks, getting used to the heat and the wind. I was able to settle into a routine on the Big Island, and, as I am, sometimes to a fault, a creature of habit, as race day approached, I was feeling settled and ready to take on all that race day would bring.

It’s important to go into Ironman, especially this Ironman with a race plan. Too often times, athletes get excited, feel the rush of adrenaline and think that they are somehow going to have an out of body experience on race day and be a whole new athlete. Those are usually the athletes you see keeled over on the side of the road at mile 80 of the bike, caked in salt on their race kit, dehydrated and looking for the sag wagon back to town. So it’s important to have a plan; a realistic plan for pacing strategies throughout the day that are based on the hours and hour (and hours) of training and racing data from years past. It’s then important to have contingency plans lettered “Plan B” thru “Plan ZZZ”. As Ironman’s slogan reads, “Anything Is Possible”….and often times just about anything really does happen. So it’s good to be prepared. We were.

As the sun rose above the volcanic mountains that protect Kailua Bay, news broke that the 3-time defending World Champion, Chrissie Wellington, would not start. The start area was abuzz. This changed everything! Though at the same time, it changed nothing. Chrissie has been (and likely will continue to be) head and shoulders above the rest of us. She rarely played into race dynamics because most knew that if you tried to “go with Chrissie” on race day, you’d likely end up with the sad sacks on the side of the road at mile 80. So Chrissie was out, but the plan remained: RACE YOUR RACE.

I made some changes to my swim strategy this year in terms of my start position. When that cannon fires, the otherwise tranquil water of Kailua Bay becomes an incredibly violent mosh pit, worthy of full body armor. Sadly, we are afforded none. I’ve been dunked, clawed, scratched. I’ve had my goggles ripped of my face. I’ve been elbowed, kicked and punched. The only strategy to deal with all of this violence is, ironically, to laugh, assume it is unintentional, and get thru it the best you can, while quietly noting race numbers of the most offensive and swearing to take revenge later.

My new strategy seemed to work and I exited the swim with the chase pack of women. 2 women off the front, and a group of about 10 of us mixed in with some 20+ pro men. Not a stellar swim time, but it’s dangerous to get emotionally attached to time in Ironman as the conditions on the day wreak havoc on the clock. 55 minutes can be a horrible swim in one year and a rock-star swim in another. In looking around, I saw a familiar group of “swim specialists” and decided that my swim was adequate; it was never going to win me the race, but it didn’t put me out of contention either.

On to the bike, and there was a group of about 5 girls who got out ahead of me in a pack, of sorts (drafting is not legal, though there is still benefit to maintaining a legal draft zone and having others to key off of on the bike). I fought for the first 16 miles to catch that group, but as the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers, and I wasn’t able to catch up. Coach’s orders: if you don’t catch them by the airport, settle into Ironman pace. They’ll come back to you.

And so, when I arrived at the airport (the first major landmark leaving the town of Kona) and the pack was still 35 seconds up, I heeded the word of my coach and settled in. I rode according to wattage and HR and while I was losing time to the pack ahead, and even had some other girls pass me in ones and twos along the way, I was feeling OK. I had a bit of a sour stomach in the early stretches of the bike, repositing most the fluid I took in, back on to the Queen K highway. By mile 35, I had settled in and was feeling OK.

Come mile 80, there is a stretch of highway I often refer to as “the death zone”. You are still so far from town that you can’t possibly let yourself think of being done with the bike. You’ve completed the infamous stretch of road called ‘the descent from Hawi’, an incredibly fast, though often terrifying stretch of road, complete with violent cross winds that have been known to knock cyclists off their bikes. And suddenly, you are back on the desolate Queen K highway with nothing but 36 miles or lava fields between you ….and a marathon.

As I got to “the death zone”, my coaches words rang in my ears, “If you feel good, go. Those girls will come back to you.” Come back to me, they did. I passed a good 6 girls back on the Queen K highway. When I got back to the airport, I giggled a little to myself. All this hard work? 30-35 hours a week of sweat, blisters, saddle sores, and lactic acid? It just might pay off. As I moved into 8th place, I laughed out loud, “I’m just getting warmed up,” I thought.

I got off the bike, and was pleased that my legs were still with me. I would learn later that I had biked some 3 minutes faster than I ever had, on a day that most would agree was more challenging than some past years with heat and wind. I averaged 9 watts higher than I ever have before and to look at the profile of my power output; it resembles a perfect smile. A solid start, steady middle and a really strong finish. My strongest miles were the last 35. That’s what we in the business call riding wicked schmaaaart.

Once I reached the change tent in “T2” (or transition 2), my stomach flip-flopped. I made a visit to the portaloo and was horrified by the nightmare going on in my stomach. Still, I emerged feeling like whatever “it” was, it was out, and I had a marathon to run. It was time to show off what the last year of dedicated run focus, greater emphasis on nutrition, and simply put, a whole helluva lot of hard work would do.

I hit the 5 mile mark on pace, according to what I thought was possible. I wasn’t feeling “good”, but it’s an Ironman after all, and I have enough experience to know that a) you don’t have to feel good to go fast and b) it’s 140.6 miles….it just plain ain’t gonna feel good. As I made the first turnaround, I sat in 10th or 11th place. I was relaxed and knew that the race was far from over. Temperatures were reported near 127 degrees and that meant one thing; girls would be dropping like flies out there. So I made sure to keep focusing on the things I could control; pace, nutrition and my attitude.

And then my stomach flip-flopped again. Luckily there are portaloos every mile, and sincere apologies to the athlete or volunteer who entered after me.

Things slowly started to go from OK to really bad. By mile 10, I was struggling. Still, Ironman is about highs and lows. I’ve suffered lows on the run course before and have pulled my way out of it. By mile 14, I was reduced to a walk. I guess if you asked my husband, it was more of a leaning, sideways sway. He called to me several times from the side of the road and I didn’t acknowledge. I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet.

By mile 15, he persisted and I waved him off. Still not ready. Still walking.

Mile 16 and the rest of the pro women’s field started passing me one after another after another. One thing I will say; while we are competitors and I’d do anything in my power to beat each and every one of them, at the same time, there is such a camaraderie amongst the athletes. It’s pretty amazing actually. While I am sure some were secretly happy to see another one fall (fewer left out there to try to beat), almost every single girl ran by and said “What do you need?” or “How can I help?” or “Can you run with me?”….pretty amazing, considering we are competitors. But you see, that’s Ironman. And that’s why, even after the day I had, I remain convinced that I have the coolest job ever.

And so I walked. And walked. By mile 22, I actually cracked a smile and looked at Dave and said, “Really? That’s only 22?” By this point, a good portion of the age groupers were passing me too. Many cheering me on. I guess it’s meaningful to see a pro out there walking….lets the age groupers know that, at the end of the day, we’re all human. The race was over far up the road by now, but as I kept telling myself, “Momma didn’t raise no quitter.” My body might give out on me, and while my mother hates when I say this, it’s either the finish line….or an ambulance. I ain’t giving up on the former until the latter is forced to haul me off the course.

And so I walked. I ran from time to time, but nothing was more clear to me than the fact that my body would have none of it.

I visited the portaloo 2 or 3 times more; clearly dehydrating myself further each and every time.

I finished and was filled with a flood of emotions at the finish line. This time, they weren’t feelings of relief, thrill, satisfaction and pride. This time I was embarrassed, heartbroken and beating myself up wondering what I’d done wrong.

I received a tremendous number of consolatory emails and voicemails. “It happens sometimes,” and “Hey, at least you finished,” or, “I can’t even walk from here to the refrigerator without getting a cramp, so you are still OK by me.” All of these statements are true. Though, if I am being honest, none of them make me feel particularly better.

In retrospect, yes, I am embarrassed for letting sponsors down. Ashamed for the investment made in me and the sacrifices made on my behalf by my sponsors, my coach and most especially by my family. Upset because I know I have better in me.

At the end of the day, though, I chose this path. I chose it because it’s hard. I don’t want it to be easy because then it’s not worth a darn. Life is tough and that’s a given. When you stand up, you’ll get knocked down. And when you’re down, you’re gonna get stepped on along the way. “Success is defined as getting up one more time than you get knocked down.”

Life is hard and Ironman is really, really hard. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want greater success and I am bound and determined to prove it. I want to be the best that I can be and at the end of the day, the risk of failure is worth the possibility of success.

I remain so appreciative for the support that my sponsors, friends, family and coach have shown me, both before and after my race in Hawaii. We’ll be back to fight again on November 28 at Ironman Cozumel.

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