"I trained just for the pure joy of seeing if I could cross that finish line. When I did cross that line, I was instantly hooked."
Training for a long course triathlon takes time, patience, planning, perseverance, and a lot of juggling of life. That's why it's important to have a strong understanding of why you do it personally. For me a big part of my why is race day. The final day when you finally get to put together the hours of training and see all of your hard work come together and finally cross the finish line. So what happens when you don't make it across that line? I have trained for 4 Ironman races and am in the heart of training for my 5th but I have only finished 2 and it's not looking too good for number 5 right now either.
I have been doing triathlons for five years now. I started with a local sprint just for fun and found myself signing up for an olympic distance race taking place the next weekend. As most things do with me it escalated quickly.... I decided my next race would be a 70.3 three months later and if I finished it I was going to sign up for a full distance race next. So that's what I did. Somewhere between training for that first half and full distance I fell in love with long course racing. I finished my first full Ironman in October of 2016. I immediately wanted to cross the finish line again because I knew I could do better (the entire time training for the race I assured my husband this was going to be a one time thing). With my husband's blessing I decided to get a coach to help improve on my race time.
140.6 #1 Louisville
That first 140.6 race was an exciting time for me. The race was Louisville, KY only a couple hours from the small town in western KY I live in. I found a training plan on pinterest (no lie) and just did everything by trial and error and had fun learning what worked or didn't work for me. I didn't read any triathlon magazines or books. I didn't look at what new gear would make me faster or give me any kind of training edge. I trained just for the pure joy of seeing if I could cross that finish line. When I did cross that line, I was instantly hooked.
140.6 #2 Santa Rosa
The second race was a completely different race for me. I had met a few local triathletes, one who qualified for Kona, at my race in Louisville and he set me up with my first coach. This training time around I had an entirely different experience. I trained with other athletes who were much faster, dedicated, and more determined than me. I went to a training camp, and got a bike fitting and a new triathlon bike. I read articles about how to get faster and made friends with the small local community of triathletes. I had my nutrition perfected and was going to surpass my finish goal by a ton of time. I picked a race that would play to all my strengths at the time and headed to Santa Rosa, California with my husband and a friend I met from camp who was trying to qualify for her second Kona race. The morning of the race came and the weather was perfect. The swim portion of the race started with no problems. I was only a minute or two behind my projected time for the swim portion. I got on the bike with no issues and everything was going better than planned until it wasn't anymore. Around 25 miles I had to stop on the side of the road because my right aero bar was loose and turning in my hand. I pulled over and threw away my over the bar fluid nutrition because it was putting pressure on the aero bars and I tried to use the velcro from it to put the bar back tight. Not my most brilliant idea but I was desperate. I made it 30 more miles to a rest area and by this time both bars were loose and my right one I was holding in my hand. This isn't even the worst part though. When the bar end came out it pulled out my Di2 and I could no longer shift gears. I pulled into that rest area frantically and all those strangers who I have never met were running around to there cars and radioing for on course help and trying to make me drink to stay hydrated. It quickly became clear that I needed the on course help but it took them over an hour and a half to get to me. When they finally came they fixed my shifting but they couldn't fix my bars so they pushed them back all the way and tightened them. I was off to great applause from the rest area volunteers. Ten miles later my bars were off again and I was stuck in my big gear. I pulled over at the special needs station and waited for the second time of the day. By now I should have been getting off my bike and getting ready to run my husband had no idea what happened to me. I waited and waited and finally just started to ride again. 40 miles and 2000 feet of elevation later with tears streaming down my face I finally saw my husband at the bottom of a hill. I had to make a decision and after 95 miles I dropped out of the race and went to the run course to cheer on my friend. Watching her finish was bitter sweet but at least I was in wine country and that helped me drown in my sorrows for a few days.
140.6 #3 Texas
After my second race I took some time off and didn't race and rarely workout for about 6 months. I quickly realized I missed it. I decided I needed to do another race just to finish it and signed up for Ironman Texas. This race was close enough we could drive. I would not have to have anyone else touch or ship my bike and it fit into our family schedule. I was on my own for training again with no coach but I had a better understanding about my goals this go around. It was a spring race and I started training in January. As usual life had other ideas. My mother in law who has always been close with us had a stroke and required a lot of care afterwards during her recovery period. I was not able to put in very many training hours for the race and even fewer long rides and runs. I decided to race anyway and finished with a personal record and a renewed sense of racing.
140.6 #4 Tulsa
Following my race in Texas I decided to try for the race I knew was in me again. A couple of years had gone by since my first Ironman and I was more comfortable in what I wanted and expected from myself and from a coach. I decided it was time to get a new coach and give myself one more try to see if I could improve and reach my goals. I asked around and got some wonderful help finding a coach. I decided on Ironman Tulsa as my first race of the year and was to do Ironman Louisville in the Fall as my A race. Things were going pretty well and I had several months of training under my belt again, I was feeling stronger and then the COVID 19 hit and my race was cancelled. Initially I was upset that I had put in hours and hours of training for another race that I wasn't even going to be able to start. Work was closed for a month and at first I thought I would get a ton of training hours in but I think I got depressed and mostly sat around for a month. After a month of feeling sorry for myself I regained a new training vigor.
140.6 #5 Louisville
So now it's July 1st 2020 I have been training for my 5th try at my dream Ironman race. I have been watching myself get stronger and make steady progress towards my goals and fitness but I haven't paid for the race yet. I already had to defer one race this year (Tulsa) and don't really want to have to defer another. So here I am training 10-14 hours a week getting in the best shape of my life for a race that I may or may not be able to do.
Between the couple days this blog was submitted and now, things have changed. As of July 6th Ironman Louisville has been canceled and they will not be returning to race in Louisville next year. I have had to talk with my coach and we decided to start moving my focus to improvements in areas that I struggle with.
I always thought my "why" was the race. Looking back over the years I have come to realize that can't be true or I wouldn't have made it this far. I have lost or failed more races than I have finished. I think my real why is more than just the feel of finishing a race. It's the sense of accomplishment I get from long training hours. It's the peace I feel when I am on mile 70 of my Saturday morning ride and I realize how lucky I am to be able to do this. It's the friends I have met along the way. Most importantly it's the strength I have found in myself to keep showing up because I know I can always do better.
Written By: Gretchen McCabe, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Gretchen on Instagram @gretchen_mccabe
What's your why? The reason that you keep coming back? Let us know in the comments below!
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