Monday, August 24, 2009

Iron Girls

Yesterday, I successfully finished the Aflac Iron Girl Triathlon in Columbia, Maryland. As many of you know, I trained to raise money and awareness for young adults living with cancer through the Ulman Cancer Fund's Team FIGHT. 70 outstanding women of all ages, shapes and sizes participated in the tri yesterday, and we rocked! There was nothing quite like hearing "GO TEAM FIGHT!" every five minutes out on the course! I am lucky to have had such an incredible first triathlon experience, and also fortunate to have been able to meet several new friends along the way. Thanks to all of you who helped me raise funds this year, and those of you who offered kind words of support and encouragement as I went through training! I feel like it's all I've talked about this year, but I'm going to indulge and talk about it once more.

Our (I was with Anne Willis, one of my best friends) day started at 4:15 a.m. After a quick breakfast, donning of our uniforms, final run-through of our "do not forget" checklist and a quick dance around the room to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," (yes, we were delirious) we were ready to go. Meg (incredible lady with an inspiring story; check out her blog here!) picked us up at 5 a.m. to head to the course. After setting up our transition areas, I had about 2 hours of standing around getting nervous, playing around, and updating Facebook and Twitter to keep my mind occupied.

By the time I lined up with my group to jump in the lake, I was so anxious, I thought I might pass out. Those kind of nerves generally don't strike me unless I'm in front of my graduate committee, and yesterday, I just couldn't shake them. All I could do was get in the water, and swim. So that's what I did. After hearing the countdown "3, 2, 1, AFLAC!" I started my freestyle and made up my mind to just enjoy the day.

I wish I could go into detail about the course, but honestly, it was a blur. I swam, biked, and ran. Really hard. My goal was go finish, and to do my best, and I did both of those. At some point during the 17 mile bike, I realized that I was more focused than I'd ever been in my life. It was a great feeling!

(I'm smiling with my eyes.)

I concentrated not on winning or going fast, but on just riding the bike, conserving energy, and enjoying the course. I also realized that nothing was really hurting and I had energy, two really nice side effects of this approach. To top it off, I finished faster than I dreamed I would. The swim took 25 minutes, which was exactly what I expected. But, biking 17 miles took 1 hour 15 minutes (I'm super slow on the bike and expected to take at least an hour and a half), and I did the 3.4 mile run with a 9 minute mile pace, which is my average running pace for road races and training. Considering that when I started the run, I thought my legs were going to fall off, and I was insanely tired, and I felt like I was crawling instead of running, I was in disbelief when I looked down at my watch at the first mile marker and saw "8:51." This made me insanely happy, not to mention I felt like a total badass. :)

Now, usually when I am going through a hard workout, what pushes me to keep going is thinking about all the people in the world, particularly people in my own life, who are not healthy enough or able to do what I do. My mantra on Saturday was, "remember, you're doing this because you can." It's a simple thought, but it's so true, and powerful. Yesterday was no exception to that. I ran with a green "Waeger Will Win" bracelet in honor of Dan Waeger, who recently lost his battle with lung cancer but used his life to better the lives of others. I carried the Team FIGHT and Ulman Fund logos on my jersey, which means I ran with the spirit of the 70,000 young adults each year who are diagnosed with cancer. I thought about all the cancer survivors in my family, and I thought about how motivated I am to keep exercising, eating well, and taking care of myself in hopes of preventing serious illness and disease in my own life.

Call me selfish, but at that point, my thoughts turned to me. During the run, what kept me going when I wanted to quit was thinking about just how far I personally have come in my one year of training - not just in terms of physical ability, but also in psychological well being. Don't get me wrong: I freaking loved knowing that I was able to succeed at a serious, hard-core endurance athletic event. But, most importantly, I finally realized this year that being in the best shape of my life, and being my happiest, does not equal being the smallest pants size or lightest weight I've ever been. I learned, without even knowing I'd learned it, how to mentally prepare for a challenge I wanted to overcome. How thinking positively and believing I could do it, meant that I could. Focusing on what I was doing, just because I could, caused me to find every last ounce of energy I had and sprint as fast as I could on the home stretch and finish my first triathlon in 2:16:03.

(look at me go! woo hoo)

Now, if you're sitting there thinking, "that's great, LBD, but I could never do anything like that," you probably won't be able to until you change your mind. But once you change your mind, I bet you'd be surprised just exactly what you could do. I certainly didn't get here overnight. I have never been particularly athletic. I never played sports in high school, and refused to participate in intramural sports in college. I couldn't even really swim until last September, nor did I own a bike until December. In fact, 4 years ago (when Anne and I started working out together in Auburn), I couldn't run a mile without stopping. My mom (thankfully) started a get-healthy routine when I was a teenager, and she and I were avid walkers. I continued to walk at Auburn, and then one day, on one of our many walks around campus, Loren made me run for 15 minutes straight, just to prove that I could do it. Despite thinking I was going to die running up the hill at the amphitheater on campus, she was right. Rosalie took advantage of our twice-a-week gym time to encourage me to sign up for a 5K with her back in 2006 (just 3 years ago!), so I have her to thank for my catching the running bug. Lindsey then convinced me to sign up for a 10K last May, and running while studying for my qualifying exams saved me from losing my mind. Then, last summer on one of the many road trips I took, Anne, a 12-year Ewing's Sarcoma survivor (and 3 time Iron Girl), told me to sign up for a tri when I just mentioned I'd thought about it. When I got back to school last August, Liz held me accountable for twice-weekly pool visits, and I was well prepared thanks to our routine swims, even though we pretty much had to force ourselves in the water sometimes. As you can see, I'm living proof that one person doing something very small, such as turning a walk around campus into a run, or pushing someone to register for a road race "for the cute t-shirt!" or agreeing to meet a friend at the pool or at the corner for a bike ride (Alyssa...) is all it takes to change a life. Hopefully, my story, or Meg's story, or Dan's story, or Anne's story, will motivate you to take on your own challenge. If you ever need help finding a race, or getting started, let me know. I want to pay it forward, and help as many people as possible start leading a healthier lifestyle that involves better eating and workout habits. My life has been much better since I began paying attention to what I eat and how I work out, and I can almost guarantee that yours will get better, too.

As I sit here this morning, nearly 24 hours after finishing, I'm really sore. I'm tired. But inspired. I feel like a new person. I feel like something changed in me during the race, that helped me center and re-focus on my life. I've been hanging on to a lot of negativity, bitterness and anger, poisonous feelings from some rough patches and bad times in my life from a few years ago. And on my run, I experienced a moment in which I just let go of all of it, and I instantly felt better. I finally embraced my life, and realized I shouldn't worry about the bad anymore, and instead just focus on all the good that I've been blessed with. I then thought about just how very lucky I am to have a husband who loves me for who I am and has supported me through bad times, long drives, bad moods, intense workout training, dissertations, classes, weddings, and stress, and how happy I am knowing that we get to go through this life together. And, not surprisingly, I heard this song in my head:

Cheesy as it might sound, we all have a light that can shine through us, made brighter with love: for another person, for nature, for yourself, for God, for whatever. This triathlon changed my life. It made me a better person. And I can't wait for my next one: Iron Girl Atlanta 2010. Who's in?


Grace said...

first of all, i couldn't be more proud of you for this tri endeavor. second, i can't wait to hear specific details about it!! third, excellent and deep update. love and miss you.

Grace said...

oh, and i'm down for IronGirl 2010!!

Christy said...

You are badass! I am so proud of you!