Endurance: "the act of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way." Synonyms: tolerance, sufferance, forbearance, patience, acceptance, resignation
I walked into the water of the James River just a few minutes prior to the race start and scanned the horizon to check out the position of the various buoys. At that point, I realized I had no clue which way we were actually swimming and turned to ask a fellow racer about the swim course. Lol. I'm glad I did, as it had definitely changed from previous years.
The thought of completing a half ironman, even with plenty of training under my belt, was a bit overwhelming. Training in each of the three disciplines, no problem. Piecing them all together successfully is another story! I am thankful I chose to prioritize my mental an physical energy by not worrying about the swim. It was definitely a challenge with the choppy water and strong current, and I worked hard, but I also took a few moments throughout to enjoy the coolness of the water and the view of the sun reflecting over the water and shoreline. I took a lot of mental snapshots while focusing on my quick strokes, swimming straight for each buoy and staying near the packs of racers. Before I knew it, I had made the final turn home and was running out of the water. First leg of the race, complete!
After a quick(ish) transition, I hopped on the bike, took a deep breath and reminded myself to stay relaxed as I settled into covering the 58 miles of open road that was ahead of me.
It's amazing how when you find your "zone," the miles just fly by. I remember a few patches of really bumpy road, pretending I was riding a roller coaster one of the few down hills, and spending a fair amount of time in deep thought. As I approached the last few miles, I took time to stretch out my legs and get in some last minute fuel. I definitely would have been happy to have been done with this race after the bike leg, and I'm positive I was not the only racer to feel that way... It was going to be a HOT run.
I made my transition quick and hit the road for the final leg of the race. My legs felt great from the get-go and I was cautiously hitting the breaks during the first 2-3 miles. I passed another female racer around mile two and she told me there were potentially 6-7 other females ahead of me. Since I had seen very few females throughout the entire duration of the bike, I really had no clue as to my overall placing (nor did I really care at that point... I just wanted to finish).
After mile 4, it became a game of survival and consistent movement. My body was feeling the heat and my pace slowed, but I focused on being (mostly) positive, making forward progress and staying hydrated. I picked off racers one by one which definitely helped the miles to pass a little more quickly. For a while, all I thought about was taking a nap or lying in a pool of ice water...and one point, I became overwhelmed by the difficulty and distance remaining and spent about 5 seconds sobbing before nixing it and pulling myself together. Yep. That's long distance racing at its best! Aid stations were definitely key in this run and I used every single one, whether to drink, pour water over my head or grab a wet rag. The aid station volunteers were stellar and I can't thank them enough!!
5 hours, 43 minutes is what it took me to finish the Patriot's Half. Technically, not even a "PR," and a far cry from my original time goal for the distance, but still a race that I am very proud of. Not because I took home the honors of 5th place overall female, 1st place female age 25-29, 3rd fastest female run split. All are great stats and great indicators that months of hard work and dedication to training are paying off. Yet, when I think back on this race, it's not the objective measures of success that come to mind. Rather, I am relishing in the many other victories that were found in the process of getting to the starting (and finish) line and the people who have supported me along the way. I have a wonderful support crew and am beyond blessed.
It's easy to get caught up in a web of negativity focusing on areas of weakness or the many things that could potentially go "wrong." I've been there many times before. One of my major victories in this race was my ability to set aside those insecurities and focus on my strengths. This season, I have continually tweaked my fueling strategy so as to optimize energy and hydration levels, adequately replenish sodium to prevent cramping, and appropriately time intakes to prevent GI issues. It's been a fun, personal "science" experiment for me. I knew with the conditions, fueling appropriately could make a huge difference, and I focused on careful execution of my nutrition plan. Fueling consistently on the bike was key, as I knew this would be critical in setting myself up for a successful run.
This past week, I have been living in a world of post-race bliss. It's a wonderful feeling! While covering the 70.3 distance was a vital stepping stone in my training towards the REAL deal, the take away lessons from this race have helped me to put the challenges and obstacles of this season in perspective and to boost my confidence for what's to come. Now that this race is behind me, I am confident that one way or another, on October 25th, I will find myself at the finish line of the Beach 2 Battleship Full. Not because I am "tough" or "fierce" as people have said, or because I am hard headed and stubborn, or for some odd reason think workouts that call for "100 miles of riding followed by 40 minutes of running" sound intriguing, fun and wonderful. Likely because, while I know many challenges still lie ahead of me, I now have confidence and faith in my ability to overcome them. I am grateful for the opportunity to toe the starting line, and at peace with whatever my race day outcome may be.
When one chooses to tackle these longer distance races, it's important to know why. I've had more than enough time spent over the past month thinking about these things. What fuels me? Why endure the pain, the fatigue and the stress that training and racing can inevitably present? Why get out of bed extra early, to jump in a pool of cold water (I hate cold water!), when I know I have a long day of work ahead?
I can't really answer those questions. All I know is for some strange reason, I am compelled to stand on the starting line of this upcoming ironman, which is now only 46 days away. Of all the obstacles I've encountered in training, of all the excuses and reasons I've come up with to not do it, none have held weight. Even on the days I've spent in tears from being worn down mentally, physically and emotionally and wanting to quit, I could not find the courage to walk away. A huge lesson I have learned in the process: when it comes to pushing limits and stepping outside ones' comfort zone, things have the potential to get messy. And that's where real life lessons are found. Setbacks and failure happen...and that's ok, because they are an impetus for growth. If things always went perfectly according to plan, would they be as rewarding? Probably not.
Running, biking, swimming... most days I love each for unique reasons, and some days I grumble each step of the way. Deep down, I know that health and fitness is a precious gift not to be taken for granted, and that days of struggle make the days of elation and joy that much better. Appreciation, passion, determination... FAITH... refusing to settle for the status quo. That is what comes to mind when the going gets tough and I make a conscious choice to press on. And being stubborn. Yep, that too :)
"When things get tough, you get tougher."
- Chrissie Wellington
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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