Maybe the light is different in Europe. Maybe it’s the bathroom mirrors. But at one point during the two weeks in Finland and Sweden, during the blur of hotels and Airbnbs and rooms, I looked up and thought, “Man, I aged. I looked older.”
That’s not a metaphor. That actually happened.
There is this thing that happens at races, where we have the same conversation every time, the ‘how long should we keep at this, what am I doing with my life’ conversation. Often it’s with other pros I’ve just met, sometimes ones I’ve never met before, and they had a bad race or I had a bad race or they’ve been wondering if it’s time to quit or we’re all wondering what comes next or maybe we’re just shooting the shit. It’s something about our speed, the middle-of-the-pack speed, where even if you’ve never met each other, you know each other. Where there are maybe only 100-200 other girls in the world who you don’t have to explain your life to, who are going through the same things.
I spent a lot of time on my own in Finland and Sweden, just by nature of the solo trip. And the whole thing maybe got a little more self-reflective than was absolutely necessary. But what are you gonna do.
After I got to Finland, I fell asleep and I woke up at a totally normal time, and then my body gave up trying to figure out what was going on. The 24-hour daylight knocked me flat on my ass. Literally. I kept having to lay down I was so dizzy and nauseous. That’s a less than ideal way to race, but I didn’t get a say in the subject.
The race started at 4 p.m. and I was still napping at noon. Ultimately, I ended up 9th out of 9 (sigh), but given that all I wanted to do was lay down and sleep during the bike, I was actually pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. After wanting to simply take a nap, after crashing on the dismount, after crying slightly, I was closing at the finish, hard, and missed by three seconds in the chute, ended up a little over a minute out of 6th and a couple minutes out of 5th. It wasn’t awful, though it wasn’t good either.
Yes, apparently blood was dripping down my knee during the run:
Eight days later, Sweden 70.3 went better. Sorta. I ended up 9th again, but in a much more competitive field.
I actually biked like I know how to ride a bike, close to my best 70.3 watts, maybe tied with. Which required constant focus on the long descents, minute by minute it’d be so easy to just zone out and still be going fast down the long gentle hills, but not fast enough. And then I ran strong, a couple of minutes off the winner (who is also the Olympic silver medalist). But I never was able to close the gap from my terrible swim. And, oh man, I swam *terrible.* Girls who got out of the water with me the weekend before in Finland, put three minutes on me in Sweden. Three minutes is a lot of minutes out of 30. Three minutes is a lot slower to get in one week.
I still don’t really know what happened. I think I was dragging a little; I have no pick-up right now, no sprint speed with all the fatigue. And I think sometimes these things just happen. And you try to fix the issues it could be, and don’t worry about the issues you can’t fix, and move on and swim faster next time.
But it was pretty awful in the moment. Pretty awful to know I’d come all this way and I’d fucked up. Because I knew. I knew I had swum insanely bad and that I was all by myself, out of the race. I knew when you spend the whole race alone you end up losing exponential time, since you lose any benefit from being anywhere near anyone on the bike. That all my effort and all my watts would still cost me more minutes back here by myself. I knew it, but instead I kept thinking, “It was probably slow for everyone; I’m sure the whole group is just around the corner up ahead.” And then I ate a gel and I got on with it.
And there was a point maybe an hour in, where I was all alone still, biking through the Swedish countryside, and I thought, “Well, I’ve already spent most of this trip by myself anyway.”
I’d like to have some point here, some lesson or takeaway, some kicker on the end of an essay, but I just watched Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’ comedy special and I’m not feeling in the mood to wrap things up in a punchline. So here’s the best I’ve got:
During the first loop of the run in Finland, since I’d given up on a good race and was simply trying to get through the thing with a strong effort, I started high-fiving small children. Because why the hell not; they were so excited about it and it certainly wasn’t slowing me down. And then I started to have fun, and then I started to realize I wasn’t running badly at all and I was closing on the girls ahead of me, and then I started to realize I was *really* closing, and then I picked it up and picked it up until I was sprinting through the final kilometer. And I ran out of room. But what if I had believed a little earlier?
And, so, that whole week in between I believed. I believed I could hold my own and all the training was there. I believed, even when I fell off the group a few minutes into the swim, that I’d simply re-catch them, and I believed I was making up time on the bike, and I believed I’d reel girls in on the run. The fact that I was super wrong is beside the point.
(Top photo: Ironman Finland)