A few weeks ago, I sat down to look at the rest of the season ahead. Three more races, three more goals. Asking myself what three goals are you willing to work for, what three goals are you filled with desire to achieve. After time thinking, I recorded my goals, I defined the necessary steps. I committed to achieving all three.
There is nothing more powerful than a made up mind. On Saturday, at the Steelhead 70.3, I nailed number one.
*Win the amateur race at Steelhead*
By way of three words: courage, strength, and vision.
Courage. The courage to put yourself and winning this race into the realm of possibility starting with the swim. Winning is always possible – whatever you feel winning might be. What makes it impossible is the “im”, as in I am not prepared, I am not willing to take a risk, I am not confident, I am not sure, I am not willing for 70.3 miles to make friends with the pain. Today I am not any of those things. Today, I am filled with courage to put this win into the category of possible for me.
But first, walk 1.2 miles south on the beach to the swim start. 2600 athletes, over 15 waves, corralled on a small piece of the shore in the early Michigan morning sun. The lake is glassy and smooth, the sun rises pink across the sky, a lighthouse stands proudly at the end of the pier.
The horn goes off. By now, after weeks of practicing in it, I know intimately this lake. It’s rhythm, it’s taste, the smell, and sound. Ankling into the water, diving towards the first buoy I settle into the familiarity, the feel of the lake. The buoys come clear, abundant and fast. I swim to the far right to stay in line with the buoys and in line with my goals. Swim as fast as possible, but take my cues from the lake. If it rolled choppy, reach farther, if it stayed smooth, pull faster.
My swimming felt strong but I knew the lake would keep time captive. A few days ago, my coach told me not even to look at my watch when I emerged, “your time will be slow, don’t look, don’t care.” So I didn’t look, I couldn’t care. Instead, I set off to redline the extra long transition run up the sandy path and leave the swim behind.
This course would be won on the bike. This race would be won in my wave, wave #6 – no interference from crowds of other waves, no opportunities for someone to ride away in a draft. This course would be won by who ever could ride their own ride, push their own wheel, harder, faster, stronger than anyone else.
Strength. It would take strength. The strength on the bike to stretch beyond yourself to your next big moment. And my big moment was here. No one would ride away from me on this race on the back of someone else’s wheel. I would ride strong filled with my own strength. I would win it out here, on this bike. That was the plan from when I first started, from the moment I signed up, to the moment I put myself on the start line.
Starting off on the bike, I hear my coach telling me to ride as hard as I can for 56 miles. So I did. In fact, I rode harder. I was near threshold, breathing hard. Not a place you want to be on a 56 mile bike but a place I had to take a chance. And trust the strength in my legs. Because I had trained, I had planned, I had visualized it, and strength is what it would take to make it happen.
Today, on this bike, I would light the match. In case I forgot, I wrote it on my blue wrist band. LIGHT THE MATCH. My legs would be set on fire, they would burn in their own pain. They begged so badly to stop. They were waiting for the ritualistic passing of the pain after settling into the bike. But it never passed. And instead, we kept the pain. 56 miles of shred, shred, shred. Push the gears, push heavy gears with heavy force, full speed ahead.
There might have been wind, gravel, bumps, large packs of riders, but I wouldn’t know. All I knew was my front wheel and my feet going around. I was completely absorbed in my race. Every time my head tried to drift away, I pulled it back. And the more I thought about my race, the harder I could go. And the harder I pushed, the more I wanted to push harder to see how much I could take. It became a game, a test of how far can we go at this hurtful, ridiculous pace. 30 minutes? 60, 90, 2 hours? I reach the 2 hour mark and know that something big is happening. I hold on to it with strength because here I am, my big moment is unfolding before my eyes.
I am quickly on to the run. The legs did not want to run. The lungs did not want to breathe. The hill at mile one was not welcome. I’m huffing, I’m aching. But I know this is in my control. Vision. All that I would need is vision, the vision to carry it through. That’s it – just 13 more miles to carry it through. The big moment you have visualized, the outcome that you want. I mumble the word vision to myself and commit. You are making it happen – courageous through the swim, strong on the bike, carry it through on the run with the vision in your head.
The run passes fast. The course is filled with runners in every direction. Mile by mile, I push the pace. Push it through another mile, then another, maybe one more. With each mile, I push harder and soon find myself running into that zone – the zone of effortlessness and fluidity. Where the arms and the legs and head work as one. I train for weeks hoping to run into this place where everything feels right in time and body. I want to capture this moment, and now that I am there, I hold it for as long as I can. There could have been a thousand other runners on that course, or I could have been the only one. I had put everything else completely out of my mind except the mile marker ahead and the sound of my body moving smoothly through time.
The last mile was long, painful, slow, and again long. Under a bridge, down a hill, turn into some cones, run towards a dune, and finally on to the sand. And then a long, sandy, bumpy line to the finish chute I run. I cross the line first amateur overall, and 30 seconds behind the 2nd overall pro. 30 seconds. That’s the 30 seconds I cruised down the finish line, or fiddled in transition, or tripped on the sandbar, or sat up on my bike, or couldn’t see into the sun. It could have been anywhere at any time. But it didn’t really matter. All that mattered is that in the end, I put three words together, courage, strength, and vision to bring together three sports, swim, bike, run, to achieve one of my goals – to win the amateur race at Steelhead.
One down, two more to go.