Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ironman Wisconsin - A Day To Erase The Doubts

The night before Ironman Wisconsin I was scrolling through twitter when I read this tweet from Jesse Thomas: "To friends chasing big dreams tomorrow - doubts are like birds in your brain, ok to hover, just don't let them nest!"

Thanks @jessethomas. I'm sure you weren't talking to me because you have no idea who I am. But your words were exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time.

I've been an athlete for a long time. And for just as long, I've battled with doubt and a lack of confidence. I know every athlete deals with this, from the most elite to those just out there for fun. And I have no way of knowing if the doubts that swirl in my head are any worse or any better than anyone else. But what I do know is this, the mountain of doubt that I had built up around being able to run well in an Ironman seemed almost insurmountable at times. So much so, that I had pretty much convinced myself that Ironman wasn't my thing and that I probably shouldn't go down that path again.

My history with Ironman is this: my very first was Kona 2010 which I qualified for at Eagleman 70.3. I ran almost 4 hours that day for the marathon but I didn't even care - I was now an Ironman! My next IM was Kona 2011 (again, qualified at Eagleman) and there I biked a ton faster but didn't run much faster at all: 3:44. Next up I raced IMCdA, my first as a pro. I ran 3:37 there which was better but woefully inadequate in the pro women's field. My frustration with not being able to run off a 112 mile bike was growing. In Arizona last year, things took a turn for the worse and I was back up into the 3:40s. Yep, Ironman isn't my thing.

But then I started with QT2. In one of my very first conversations with Tim, he told me that Ironman was my distance and that running would be my strength at that distance. Um...did he fail to notice my past results? Did he not hear me say I can't run a marathon off the bike well AT ALL? But I've learned not to question him because he's (almost) always right.

So we started to train for Ironman again and truthfully, the training went better than it ever has 100 times over. I was definitely running much better than I ever had and I PRed at the 70.3 distance and I felt great and I was healthy...but still, the doubts remained.

I went to Wisconsin with the sole goal of erasing those doubts in my mind. Of proving to nobody but myself that I could run a respectable marathon. I didn't care about my place or my overall time, those things were all secondary. I just wanted to run well. I NEEDED to run well.

And I'm so thankful that that is exactly what I did. No, it wasn't perfect. I made a ton of mistakes throughout the race including my execution of the marathon (like going out at 6:30 pace - not good). BUT, but, I finally put together a run that is much more indicative of my training and ability level and one that has helped me believe that with time, work and some more experience, I can be competitive at this distance in the pro field.

I feel such relief to be honest. I also feel like I can finally move on. Now that I can actually wrap my head around running a 3:15 marathon off the bike, I can look forward and believe in a 3:10 or a 3:05. It's like a whole different ballgame for me now!

As I was running toward the finish line on Sunday I felt 10 pounds lighter to have finally shed the weight of all those doubts. But more than anything I felt simply overwhelmed with gratitude. My heart swelled with thankfulness to so many:

  • Gratitude to my sponsors PowerBar, Brooks, Rudy Project, SOAS, CompuTrainer, Xterra and a small company in Pittsburgh called CID Associates that took a big chance on me - thank you for the support that allows me to pursue my dreams.
  • Gratitude to the AWESOME people of Madison who make Ironman Wisconsin one of THE best races I've ever done. Seriously, the spectators and volunteers are like nothing I have ever seen.
  • Gratitude to my fellow competitors. I chased Jackie as hard as I could and although I didn't catch her, she brought out the best in me.
  • Gratitude to my friends and family for their never ending encouragement!
  • Gratitude for my amazing parents who never blink an eye when I ask them to come watch me race. By now they may have wished for a "normal" daughter and some grandchildren! But you'd never know because they are too busy showing up at races and encouraging me to pursue my passion.
  • Gratitude to Tim and QT2 - without them I'd still be believing that Ironman wasn't for me.
  • And most of all, gratitude for Oscar who has been through it all with me from day 1. He has seen me fail so many times that his joy for my success on Sunday was perhaps greater than mine. I wish everyone had an Oscar in their lives.
And so that was that. I've soaked it in and enjoyed it. And now it's time to move on. More work to be done and races to be run!

The water was really choppy.  I threw up twice DURING the swim (sorry to those swimming behind me).  My tummy does not like choppy water.  (photo Jonathan Geair)

But when you are finished with the swim, you get to run up the Helix to transition.  Having (literally) thousands of people cheer me on up the Helix was one of the most thrilling moment of my sporting life. (photo Jonathan Geair)

I've never been so happy to be out of the water.  Even more so when I saw that it was actually an IM PR! (photo Becki Gazda)

The bike spectators are beyond awesome!  Ryan (a PowerBar employee!) is helping me up one of the steeper hills with a drum escort.  I can't keep from laughing!  (photo Erin Klegstad)

The bike course is rolly.  I loved it!  (photo Ali Engin)

One of my favorite bike aid stations involved men in pink speedos.  (I'm not in this picture, I just stole it from the Ironman FB page)
Making my way through the run course.  (photo Becki Gazda)

Erasing the doubts.  (photo Ali Engin)


  1. Just SO happy for you, Beth!
    I really enjoyed spectating and cheering for you on Sunday.
    You just had that "look" - and that switch that I see in so many of the leaders in races -- that focus!
    I was getting goosebumps when you were running because I knew it was leading to something great!

    DREAM BIG is right! Congrats on an amazing day!

  2. I am thrilled for you. Well done Beth!!!!!

  3. Great job Beth! It's really cool to see someone have a huge breakthrough like that. Keep on rolling!

  4. That is FANTASTIC. Congratulations. What a great race and post.

  5. I am so happy for and proud of you Beth! I wish I could have cheered for you more but was thrilled to see you at the top of the helix and then in 2nd place around mile 22 of the run. So inspirational. Love your part about Oscar above- in tears. Keep being you and erasing the doubts!

    get the point! I was so happy for you and i was sad to not be there but I know when we finally meet i wil even go to nooodles with you:) You are an incredible athlete Beth!! The real deal!

  7. I'm with Julia!! LOVE LOVE LOVE!! Super happy for you, Beth!! :)

  8. You don't know me either, (like your quote), but I read your page every now and again since being a part of Pittsburgh life (never having joined the Pitt Tri Club though) but having met you, once, briefly --- you made a positive impact on me. Anyway, through your writing it was apparent the struggles of getting better, but not getting "better". My friends were racing IM WI, and when I updated the pro section, I saw you were there. I was beyond thrilled to see the stats updating. Great race, even better breakthru for YOU - which is the most important thing. All the best. Thanks for inspiring me.

  9. HUGE breakthrough! It's been so fun following you all these years since you made the jump from running to triathlon, and then reading about your challenges with making your best sport out of race day your best sport in race day. Growing wise and experienced doesn't just come by a light switch; it's the product of mistakes, doing things the hard way sometimes, learning, little victories, always learning. And that's what you did! After enough time, enough experience, enough fitness, and enough mental strength, you put together an insane race. Woohoo Beth! Recover happy. Dream big! Congratulations!

  10. HI!! The Ironman video is great! You look so happy and were so articulate and I am just thrilled for you. What a day!! Congratulations!!

  11. WOW! Congratulations! So neat to read about your race and how your mental and physical training came together, I've enjoyed reading your blog the past several years now. Wish I still lived in Western PA so I could see you locally. But I'll continue to follow your career from afar!

  12. Thrilled for you, Beth! Congrats on an absolutely fantastic race!

  13. Awesome job Beth!!! I always enjoy reading about your journey and accomplishments.

  14. Beth, I first learned about you several yrs ago when I hooked up with JHC. I've tracked your blog off and on since - but started paying more attention when you, Beth W. and Charissa all went pro around the same time. Have been cheering for each of you because I know you all work hard and have talent and it's been interesting for me to see the challenges each of you face at your level. So, long story short - I'm a blog lurker and seldom comment, but I have to say I WAS THRILLED to see you have a breakthrough race with your run - it actually brought tears to my eyes when I checked the results. And I love the interview at the end of this blog post. CONGRATULATIONS over and over again and thank you for the inspiration and I continue to wish you the best!

  15. Way to rock it out. Loved tracking you!

  16. Great Blog Beth and very inspirational. Mental strength and confidence or lack of confidence are huge factors in triathlon and mastering your 'inner game' is critical to reaching your personal bests.