Saturday, November 08, 2008

Willing To Wait

I’ve been laying low in an effort to prepare for my last two races of the season, my first season as a pro; Ironman Arizona and a little race called the 70.3 World Championship.

Qualifying in the first place was my big goal this year. It’s different as a pro. Honestly I never even thought about having to qualify. Seemed like as an age grouper they were giving 70.3 slots away. Nobody really wanted them.

This year I wanted one. And when you finally want something in life, that’s when it’s the hardest to get. I’d passed on that slot so many times I forgot how hard it might be to finally have the option to say yes.

It happened back in July. Got my slot. Got a little more overtrained. Finally found my way back. Won a small race and decided I wanted to do an Ironman. Plus still go to Clearwater. Why not? I had nothing to lose. I mean, I had already lost everything you could lose in a year – my health, many races, my self-confidence, at times my pride. I'm not being overdramatic just honest. This has been an interesting year. The only thing I have not lost is…my dog.

Clearwater still seemed to make sense. Two weeks before an Ironman – a final taper workout. The rest of the taper you just sit around anyways so what’s sitting around sore? I decided to give it a go.

My goal was simple; just get here, do the race! I’ve realized this year that as a first year pro you learn to let go of time goals. Why? Because as someone recently told me – you go slower before you go faster. And I have gone much, much slower this year. Slower than I’ve gone in 3 years. This is very frustrating to me. Because nobody wants to “waste” a year going slow. Especially not a 33 year old woman who has been told by her family she needed to have babies 5 years ago. Yeah, I’m getting there. But it’s also not right to me as an athlete. It’s hard to accept that you have to get worse at something before you get better. But the more I started accepting that, the more I just let the process happen, the more at peace I was, the more perspective I gained.

This year has been all about perspective.

You might say – just go faster, Liz. Trust me, folks, I’m working hard. I know pace. I raced for nearly 10 years as an age grouper – all distances. And I know how to race a race. Something I didn’t realize was that the pro race is just a different race. No one ever believes me about that. What frustrates me is when age groupers say – I beat a pro. Even though it is the same race course, if you don’t start with the pros it is not the same race. I know you think that’s bullshit. Trust me, I used to be one of those people too. I also used to think that the pros have it easier because they have clean water and roads. But in the age group race when you have hundreds of people cutting water and air for you – even if you need to go around them – you are on a faster course. You are racing a different race.

I didn’t believe that. Then I started racing as a pro. And started going slower. But I was going harder. Wait, what? Does that mean I’m a lousy pro because I can’t go fast anymore? No, just that I'm a work in progress as a pro. Each race I’ll learn a little more, get a little faster. I got faster today as a pro. I set a PR today as a pro. I may be lousy but I'm learning a whole new game.

Race day started early. The token bowl of oatmeal, coffee, walk to the race site, set up transition. I’ve learned to completely relax at the races now. Even at the pro meeting. It was literally a who’s who in triathlon. Nina Kraft asks if the chair next to me is taken. The meeting dragged on a bit and my stomach was growling. Next thing I know she throws a breakfast cookie in my lap and says “eat”. When Nina Kraft tells you to eat a cookie, you listen.

I ate the cookie

The transition area was like the meeting minus the chairs. Who’s who? Let’s see. There’s Andy Potts talking to the cameras. Desiree Ficker is putting her bike next to mine. Julie Dibens is close. Dede Griesbauer is being interviewed. Then the woman next to me starts talking to me. I do a double take like, you talking to me? I ask her if she is Fiona Docherty because that is where she was hanging her bike and she says no, I’m Mary Beth Ellis. My bad. I mistook my tri superstars.

The water was beautiful, cool and calm. I take the time to warm up for 15 minutes. It felt great. Actually I felt great. You know when you feel like everything has come together? Your training, your head, your energy? That was how I felt today. I was so excited for this race, for the opportunity to just be a part of this race.

The race start – I just smiled. There I was standing in the start area for a world championship – as a pro. I really felt like I arrived. Most first year pros transition from being age group superstars that finally step up. Then they spend a year hanging off the back of each race before they finally give up and fade into oblivion. Very few are tough both physically and mentally enough to stick with it and come back stronger the next year. This year I have learned the transition from top age group ranks to pro is one of the hardest things I have ever done to my body and mind. It wears at you. It tugs at your emotions. It wrecks your confidence at times, the same confidence that separated you from most other age groupers. The confidence that used to be your strength. Now you have doubts. You stepped up to go slower? You stepped up to get beat by the same age groupers you used to beat by 10 minutes or more? And this is supposed to be fun?

Well, no. It’s not always fun. Improving performance is not always interesting nor immediately rewarding. It takes time. It hurts – in many ways. Learning lessons involves some blows to the ego. Sacrifices of your health both emotionally and physically at some point will be made. But if you are passionate about what you are doing and truly believe in yourself, you will get there one day. Or maybe you won't but you never regret yourself for giving it a try.

I found myself standing at the start line drawn in the sand. In front of me is Becky Lavelle, Joanna Zeiger. The gun goes off and immediately they were ahead of me. I’m right there, right there but then they slowly swim away. And I was going hard. Mentally I had prepared that the swim would hurt like hell. Redline, bolt from the gun and suffer. Yet I was still gaining no ground - I was a buoy behind! I could see the group but could not get there.

However I was enjoying the swim. I just kept telling myself to focus, you are here, you are doing this. Just get through it and on to the bike. I knew I was one of the last pro's out of the water and honestly as you approach the end of the swim knowing EVERYONE will be looking at you like “oh, that’s the last pro out of the water, oh how sad”, well, it’s like having that dream you show up in class with nothing but your underwear on – and your underwear has a hole. And then you fall flat on your face into the sand as you get up out of the water as they are shouting your name.

Perfect.

I get wetsuit stripped, run through the change tents and on to my bike. Within the first 2 miles there is a big hill. My heart rate is probably around 300 and I am huffing. If the swim was hard, the bike was harder. I was making my way through the neighborhoods as fast as I could. The pace felt hard. I felt fast. But I had no idea where I was. I looked down and my computer said I was going 23.1 mph and I thought – I am hauling ass! Then a few minutes later I passed a mile marker and realized my computer was reading about 2 miles more. Then it hit me - I have Chris’ computer on my bike so it’s reading for 700 wheels!

I make my way on to one of the long stretches of road and finally realize that I am about 12 minutes down from some of the lead women. At this point you start thinking – what is the point of me being out here? Why go on? To do yet another ‘slow’ race? But then I think to myself – what is the point of quitting? To prove that you can give up? To prove that when things aren’t going your way you’ll just stop? And what does that say about yourself as a person, as an athlete, as a coach?

There was no need to answer that. Because I wasn’t quitting today.

For about the first hour I was alone. And then it began. The packs. I had heard about the drafting at this race and that is why as an age grouper I never had the desire to go. Unfortunately, what you have heard seemed right. Packs of several men would whiz by me and then disappear down the road. Yet the road (at this point) was completely clear. There was no excuse necessary of “but I got caught up and had nowhere else to go.” You had no excuse.

It was disheartening but not my business. If people want to race dirty, that is their choice. People will do whatever their conscience will bear. And right now there are some athletes out there with very full and heavy consciences.

I got off the bike and knew I was behind – but I was still going to give it my best. I knew I raced clean. I knew I rode as hard as I could by myself. I had a speedy transition and it was time to run. And I love to run!

My legs felt great. In fact, all day I felt great. The hill at the first mile I chugged right up it. I did my best to keep giving it more at every mile and turning my feet over faster. I could see the other pro women coming back and knew I was far behind. Momentarily I asked myself again what the point was – this finish time would be slower than my 70.3 PR and still I was in last place. But then I saw Mirinda Carfrae out there. She was not having a great race. But she was still in it. And I thought – even world champions can have tough days. You have to start somewhere and even when you get to the top that doesn’t mean it gets any easier. But you finish it up. You do it for you if nothing else.

There I was at mile 9, just a few miles from the finish line and yet another last place. I was making no ground on the other women. And then I saw something. I ran towards the turnaround and realized I was within one minute of the next pro woman. One minute! I thought about my year. About how many lessons I have learned. About how hard I have worked to just keep coming out behind. Today, I was not going to be last. My goal today was just to be here - and secretly to not finish last!

I was going for it.

I started running as hard as I could and she got closer and closer until in the last quarter mile I passed her. I took a quick look back and she was right there with me. Took a deep breath and turned it up more and headed to the finish line.

I crossed the line in 4:45. My best time in a 70.3 was last year, 4:32. Does this mean I am 13 minutes less fit this year? No way! It’s just a different race. One that I gave 100 percent today. I had the opportunity to do that because I qualified to get here as a pro! That was a success. I raced clean! Another success. And I did not cross last! I know that sounds like nothing – to finish second to last – but when you are essentially learning what feels like an entirely new game, these small success are how you build towards bigger success.

I will admit many times out there today I rebuked the idea of Ironman. Do you want to race 140.6 miles alone Elizabeth? Do you want to go through that distance only to possibly finish 30, 60, hell 90 minutes slower than your best Ironman time? Are you willing to risk that?

Yes. Yes I am. Because I am out here to learn. Learning makes me a better athlete and coach. I have learned so much this year about racing and myself. You learn what you are made of. When things are not going your way, when you are far behind – you learn what you are really out there for. It is so easy to quit, to let your head fill with negativity. When you allow this to happen it almost stifles you and shuts your legs down. It is so hard to keep convincing your head and your legs that you are strong, that you can do this, that you are worth staying in the race.

These conversations make up your character. Character is revealed when you are at your lowest, stripped of everything and faced with difficulty. The choices you make say much about who you are. Will you quit or continue on just because you can?

It always comes back to what I learned last year at Ironman...yes I can.

Today I gave it my best. This year I have given it my best. It has not been easy. It was a huge risk to step up only to take what feels like 100 steps back. All while reminding myself, you didn’t have to make this choice, you could have stayed in the age group ranks, winning, “beating pros” and feeling bigger than yourself. Walking away with hardware, medals and unbeatably warm feelings inside.

But I remind myself you are brave. Because you wanted something bigger than that. I wanted to take a risk. I wanted to say - what if I just gave it a try. If not now, then when? And why not? Great performance comes from a place of great risk and confidence. I was confident in the athlete I was last year and I have learned this year that I need to still be confident about who I am. Because I am the same athlete – just racing a different race. Actually I'm a better athlete. And each race I will learn more and my pro performance will continue to improve.

I’ll get there. I’m willing to wait.

36 comments:

Andrea said...

You have won, in ways too many to count.

What a thing to discover.

Eileen Swanson said...

So, so, so TRUE! It is a COMPLETELY different race and you are right, people just don't get it. It is not even close to what an ag group is. You are BRAVE. We are BRAVE ;-) It is a huge learning experience and we will only keep getting better. You are awesome!!

Thanks for the great chat tonight ;-)

E

BreeWee said...

Oh I am choked up... seriously just read this word-for-word and choked up. LIZ, your honesty & adventures are so humbling, real, and RARE! You are amazing as being you...

Some of this I can relate to with you as a first year pro, then I realized... you were brave. I just cried. Thank you for showing how to stand brave in the middle of SO MANY reasons to be scared...

GREAT race... and even better well wishes to you at AZ!

Courtenay said...

do you know that sebadoh song of the same title? it's one of my favourites.

have fun at imaz!

Shawn and Tracy said...

Awesome post again!;-) sometimes I feel like your in my head in this post. Way to race out there today, you did great. It is a different race and until one is in it they have no idea. Here's to next year!
Cheers,
Tracy

Molly said...

Totally proud of you for everything you did out there today! And how wonderful that you can look at it with such a great perspective too.

I can't wait to cheer for you at IM AZ!

Jason said...

One of my favorite Dalai Lama quotes is: "Great achievements involve great risk."

Way to lay 100% on the line today to earn your finish!

Yes, yes you did!

rr said...

Congratulations, Liz. Excellent race, excellent mindset, and excellent story. Well done!

Marni said...

I tried looking for you out there!
I think you did great and you are incredibly fit! Enjoy a little rest and you will be strong(er) next year :)
-marn

Beth said...

Congrats Liz! And thanks for the great post. It takes a lot to keep pushing and not give up but that's what's so impressive and will set you apart again at the pro level too! Happy recovery - one more big one!

Cy said...

Great post Liz! You're certainly an inspiration.

See you in AZ.

Train-This said...

Well done girl! I knew that run course had your name on it!

Lindsay said...

Good Job Liz. I know people who have turned pro and hear how it is a total different game and race. You'll come out a stronger athlete for having to do the work and have these experiences!

Patricia said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now without commenting. I'm just a newbie in all this but your posts give so much motivation to continue and reach for my goals.

Thanks for that and congrats on your race :)

TriGirl Kate O said...

"Yes you can!" is my new motto. Congrats on running a clean, great race. Can't wait to follow you at IMAZ!

Charisa said...

Congrats!! Good luck in AZ!

Mira Lelovic said...

Congratulations, Liz, for being brave and for taking a chance on yourself. Regardless of what your label is this year (pro), you're still that same amazing athlete and you should still feel very proud of yourself and your accomplishments. Rest up for AZ!

chrissy parks said...

Thanks for that post.
I'm trying to decide what to do next year and have been tossing around the idea of a pro card.
What you wrote is what I expect, but it was good to hear your thoughts and experiences.

chrissy parks said...

Thanks for that post.
I'm trying to decide what to do next year and have been tossing around the idea of a pro card.
What you wrote is what I expect, but it was good to hear your thoughts and experiences.

triEVielon said...

This is such an inspirational blog! It brought tears to my eyes. I think we have all had these races as amateurs, age group winners or first timers.

I recently did a race where I came in dead last in two of three events and didn't do so great on the third - the run. It is so tough as a "regular" age grouper to keep going knowing you've done better in the past and will likely do better again but that in the moment you're in, it's not going to go your way. I can't imagine what that would be like as a pro.

Thank you for your candor and insight. Your compassion for others is apparent in the heartfelt way you are willing to share your triumphs and tribulations. Your clients, friends and family are very lucky to know you and frankly so are the rest of us.

P.S. Makes me want to vote your blog "the best of" again ;-).

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Thank you so much for sharing and inspiring.

Anonymous said...

I saw you finishing on Saturday (was cheering for you, but you were so damn focused, probably didn't hear.) All I can say is that you had the look of sheer determination on your face. You are one of the most focused and dedicated athletes I know Liz. I know the experiences of going pro this year (good and bad), will only be fuel to the fire to keep you not only succeeding in this sport, but motivating others. Your true character shines more in adversity than it does in success. Yours is shining more than ever.

Keep dreaming big, chasing the big dogs, and your success will continue.

Karyn A.

Alicia Parr said...

Clean, uncrowded racing is where it's at. Unfortunately, that's not the case for AG'ers at the big "important" races. Glad you went pro and are having the experiences you're having. All worth it. Just that the "why" can't be about the accolades, which get pretty hollow if you hear them too much anyway.

You won't go 90 minutes slower at IMAZ unless you pace stupidly. Which you won't.

Pam said...

Awesome post!!!! Thanks.

Jennifer Harrison said...

Well, I am not sure I need to post here b/c you know exactly how I feel about you as an athlete and the HUGE accomplishments you made this year. IF athletes only had 1% of your guts and determination, there would be a TON more better athletes out there...but most are too afraid! Onto the next step in your journey!
Jen H.

GoBigGreen said...

thanks for this post. For any athlete driven to excel
and used to success your words have great meaning.
congrats on your journey thus far and on living
life by your rules, not someone else's!

IronMatron said...

Before they called my AG to begin I heard the announcer cry, "Elizabeth Fedofsky just out of the water!" I was so excited just to know you were there, because of course you didn't advertise at all that you were going!
I tried to send you fast transition vibes--:)
I admire you so much for your guts and determination. You didn't allow yourself to give into the idea that it didn't matter--and that makes you a person of character. I really believe that. And btw, you were not the second to last pro. There were TWO pros behind you. You are going to have a great race at IMAZ, and you are going to have a fantastic second year as a pro. You are an inspiration!

Laura said...

This was an awesome post!

I have an article from Triathlete Magazine on the wall in my cube at work about Rutger Beke's Hawaii 2007. I'm sure you remember, but he had injured his Achilles and couldn't run the marathon, but he finished the race - out of respect to the age groupers and the sport. Sure he could have gone on to race another day, not further his injury, but realized that race was so important to sooooo many people - just being there was an honor - and he finished, 898th overall. You're determination reminds me of that. You're not willing to quit although you had much more accolades as an age-grouper. Thanks Liz for taking these risks and showing the rest of us that we can!!!

Laura said...

P.S. The last line of that article is: "The greatest athletes are not just role models when they win - they are even more so when they don't."

Ulyana said...

Holy cow, you are so hard core! Thanks for sharing this incredible experience!

Kim said...

This post is amazing Liz. Thank you so much for a glimpse inside your mind. What a year, what a learning experience! You really should be so proud not only of what you have done toughing it out but of how you've helped others. That is a wonderful gift and you use it so well. I feel blessed just to know you!! Great race!!

Jen said...

Wow, what an awesome post. I was there Saturday! Very inspiring! Thanks for sharing...

TRI-ROB said...

I like you Liz. You like Egg Nog. That's special.

Breathe...

p.s. REALLY fun being out there with you and getting to watch you turn it on in the last mile... thanks for the barely audible grunt you threw at me. Good times good times.

Eisparklz said...

As an age-grouper who is consistently second to last, or so far in the back of the pack that the race is packing up by the time I finish, I'm grateful for your willingness to share your mental frustrations and successes!

You have a harder time beating the goon when you know that winning is just not an option, but I feel like your accomplishments feel that much better when you know your best is not good enough and you still get out there and TRI. You beat the race and the goon, and you should celebrate the success of beating the challenge just as much as the Tri Super Stars feel beating each other.

It's a different race, but it's the same race.

Good luck at IMAZ - I'll be cheering for you at the first run aid station!

Haley Cooper said...

Wow, you sure captured the sentiment. I sometimes take solace in looking at the times of some tri-greats during their first few years as pros. We don't know about the times they finished towards the bottom of the pro ranks because they weren't famously successful yet. They were learning and improving - just like we are! Great job in Clearwater and looking forward to AZ!

Sally said...

Elizabeth,
You are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing. I feel your challenges and cheer your accomplishments. I was cheering for you at Clearwater. Congrats. You are wonderful in so many ways.

Sally