“I found myself in the fire burned hills, in the land of a billion lights”.
“I found myself in the fire burned hills, in the land of a billion lights”.
Today over coffee a friend mentioned how she selects a word that sort of ‘sets up’ how she’s going to go through the journey of the coming year. For her 2013 was about momentum and in 2014 it’s focus.
I thought for a moment what my word would be. I envisioned my hand sweeping over my heart as if to bring it peace or calm. I couldn’t pin point exactly what that meant much less think of a word to associate it with.
Sipping on my coffee everyone around the table shared what they believed their word for 2014 would be. I thought a bit further and wondered if the word “be” or “being” would describe that vision. I repeated in my head it means; being ok with my small apartment; be ok with my job and money; being ok with where my fitness level is. But that only made me feel anxious, not the calming and peacefulness the vision shared with me.
We left the conversation without me really picking a word and went on with our day. It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized it that the vision wasn’t so much about my hand bringing peace or calm to my heart but holding it. To show it love, self-love.
I once heard someone being interviewed who said, “I believe you are all beautiful. Even when you cannot see that, know that I am holding that space for you”. That my friends is what I think I was trying to do in that vision, to hold space within me for love, self-love, self-compassion.
(yes, I realize that is three words)
A recent discussion about happiness and changing the name of my blog and its purpose prompted a friend to say “Searching for Szabo, sounds like the title of a movie”. Which turned the discussion to would my life really make for a good movie? And how does it end?
We continued the conversation by agreeing happy endings in movies don’t really end. It just comes to a point where the characters have crossed over the line of ultimate happiness and we, as viewers, see the enduring kiss in the rain, the up lift of the athlete and carried on the shoulders of teammates while the crowds cheer or the fade into the distance. They don’t really end, we don’t know what happens after, we fill ourselves with joy just knowing that the characters have reached that pivotal moment when all is right in their world and they are happy.
For me the visual I have in my end of how my movie ends is simple…It’s me on a bike riding into the distance on a wooden trail with the sun rising in the background. It’s a pretty vivid visual. But what is it that I have to do to position myself on that tail. How in this search will I know that I’ve reached my ultimate happiness and what do I have to do to get there? Those are the unanswered questions and I will continue to move in the direction of this happy ending.
Do not dwell in the past,
Do not dream of the future,
Concentrate the mind on the present moment.
I found an book called Offerings Buddhist Wisdom for Every Day in my office space when I started. It’s like a daily calender…strange thing is that despite the fact it’s an older book, it lines up with this year perfectly! And nearly every time I flip to the current day, it’s daily offering is spot on with what I am feeling that day… The Buddha knows!
I blogged twice in the past two years, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t feel I had anything I wanted to say…well say out loud anyways. I’ve come to realize that I need not be ashamed of my feelings, I needed to embrace them.
I’m nearly two years out from three of the moments that would impact who I am…or who I thought I was forever.
That was just one week in September 2010 and now nearly two years later I’ve discovered that I hadn’t really ‘lived’ until those moments and this “new” blog is about how I am choosing to live through them. With those changes I’ve been in search for who I am, who I want to be and all that I am capable of being.
The old blog needed a change, a make over, a direction to go in, a purpose for being. Kind of like the writer.
There is no doubt that in 2010 I was at the peak of my fitness. I trained and participated in Ironman Canada, was in the best shape of my life and felt like I was on top of the world. I trusted the training schedule and followed as if it was the “holy spoken word”. I trained with heart rate, paid close attention to nutrition to be fueled properly, never missed a workout and during the training session I got everything out of it I should of. After Ironman Canada life took some hard quick turns and in 2011 I would not be racing/training as I did in years past, needing to take the year off.
Recently, I was lamenting to my coach about “not feeling like an athlete”, thinking in comparison to the previous year. My efforts and focuses were spent on recovering from life’s twists and turns having little energy. I felt empty and goal-less. Since 2004 been searching for the next big race…the next big challenge. I wasn’t going to be doing that in 2011.
While talking this through with my coach he had me reflect on what I was doing and not on what I wasn’t doing in 2011. What now seems like an obvious thought process, I really had to think this through. Since beginning to run in 2004 I knew I wanted to someday become a coach; to share my experiences and knowledge gained and help others find their fitness. As the self-appointed “leader of the back” I was able to work on this goal in 2011…in a more official manner anyways. I have been a guide and the group workout coordinator for FastForward Sports. In doing so I pushed my current ability and worked with pace groups that tipped my comfort level. It’s great to work with all levels of athletes and hear their stories. I was able to share my love for cycling by guiding the weekly F4 group rides throughout the summer. I have so much gratitude knowing I played such a small part in so many athletes’ accomplishments. From their first time up (and over) Olde Stage Rd, to their longest or fastest run ever! Very inspiring to say the least.
Guiding F4 group runs allowed me to train along with our athletes setting their sights on Canyonlands Half Marathon in mid-March. Although I was unable to travel to Moab, my girlfriends and I made up our own race here in Boulder! We affectionately called it Kind-a-lands Half Marathon. It was kind of like we were there! It was a great experience for all of us and we even got medals at the finish!
A friend was training for an early spring marathon and I was asked if I wanted to do some of her longer runs with her. I was more than happy to support her in whatever way I could and agreed to do some longer runs. I’ve only ran over 18 miles one other time in my running history, so this was going to be a challenge for me. We got started sometimes 2-3 hours before the F4 group to get the miles in and then joined the group getting the rest of our miles in with them! Starting before the sun rose, then watching it rise above the horizon, running in the early spring snow and rain showers has been some of the most spiritual times I’ve ever had! As the miles increased she thanked me with an entry to a local marathon…why put those hard earned miles to waste? Despite the cool rain and getting lost, it was nice to be able to participate in the Colfax Marathon in early May!
Not formally racing allowed me the opportunity to volunteer a lot more and give back to the sports I love so dearly. In doing so, I received some complimentary entries and participated in a few duathlons and 5/10k’s. Mostly, volunteering allowed me to cheer and support thousands of athletes. I was at nearly every local triathlon this summer! I even hosted some out-of-town guests racing here and showed them how we roll in Boulder ;).
I awoke the morning of my 39th birthday and decided to do what I call a “Birthday Brick”. I swam 39 laps in the pool, ran for 39 minutes and road 39 miles on my bike. (It’s my birthday brick I can do it in whatever order I want to! 🙂 ). I was up early enough (not unusual for me, I’m a sunrise kind of girl, not a sunset one) to get my laps in and able to join my fellow F4 runners for 39 minutes of their run. This is was really quite fun and I highly suggest it. No pressure, no pre-race jitters, some impulse planning (couldn’t pack and repack my race bag days ahead), and I just went with it.
In August I had a wonderful weekend in Keystone/Copper Mountain with friends riding in the cool mountain sunshine and battling the Warrior Dash! It was so much fun to hang out in the Rockies and have a little “dirty” fun with friends!
It’s been so exciting to see my family taking a hold of their health and fitness in the past few years. My cousin posted on his Facebook page that he wanted to do his first half marathon coming up in early fall. Excited for his reasonably challenging goal, I responded that if he signed up I’d make the trip to Iowa and do it with him. Well as Facebook works, word spread throughout our family and suddenly we had 11 family members signed up for the Des Moines full or half marathon. Another cousin had never done anything longer then a 5k, with some encouragement from her brothers she signed up and I was given the opportunity to coach her remotely. It was an absolutely great experience that weekend. I ran alongside my cousin and we giggled and laughed as we did when we were 10 years old. Most rewardingly she crossed the finished line 16 minutes faster than her goal. It’s inspiring to see how many of my family members have taken to running, triathlon and getting ahold of their health & fitness. Between us we have 4 Ironmans (one has done one twice), 9 who have done one or more marathons and/or half marathons, 13 have done a 5 or 10k and between us we’ve lost over 500 pounds!
Most surprisingly for someone who was “taking the year off”, I took up a new sport! I have fallen in love with the sport of Cyclocross! I’ve even ‘suckered’ a few friends into doing it with me. I am humbled at my lack of skill but amazed at my determination to succeed! The challenge has brought a whole new meaning to “finding comfort in discomfort” for me. I’ve pushed my limits, challenged fears and taken a few spills only to get back up and keep going. I was given the advice to approach Cyclocross like Ski Jump Racing (I too was scratching my head at this point). See in Ski Jump Racing scoring is based on distance and style. My advice was to go out and race with grace and style 🙂
One of FastForward Sports philosophies is “There is a time of year for training and a time of year for playing”. For me I had to realize there are some years for training and some years for playing. That’s what has become my philosophy for this year! There is something to be said about leaving the heart rate monitor at home, being a little less concerned with nutrition and jumping into a race and doing it just do it. I’ve enjoyed “playing” and having fun with my fitness with my friends, family and F4 teammates this year. And in short…still feel like an athlete.
The Guts to Fail
I’ve dreamed of crossing the Ironman finish line since I did my first triathlon, on a mountain bike, in 2006. I’ve visualized the crowd chanting, banging their hands against the rails and stomping their feet in the metal stands that lined the finishing chute. I’ve been overcome with emotions as these thoughts continued to drive me forward to reaching my ‘someday I’ll do an Ironman’ goal. Little did I know that three short years later, after doing that first triathlon, I would be signing up for my first Ironman and working for the next year in order to reach that seemingly impossible ‘someday’.
I woke up race morning remembering words Scott, my coach, had said the night before, “If I were to get a call right now from the race director stating the race was canceled, would you still be proud of the journey and consider yourself a success?”
I shook my head yes as my memory took me back to not only the past 365 days, but my entire journey of choosing to live a healthier lifestyle through triathlon. I had pictures in my mind of the six months following my decision to sign up for Ironman Canada. There was the Sunday mornings my girlfriends and I headed up to Red Rocks Amphitheater for a brutal boot camp workout. I now think that I can out push up, reverse stair crab crawl and jumping jack squat anyone…except Lida, but she’s an animal! I remembered the Wednesday night ski conditioning classes and giggling in misery at one another. I also pictured how awkward it must have been to on-lookers when I was in the ‘ring’ sparring with a nationally ranked boxing champion and doing a pretty good job of getting my ass kicked!
Back to race morning, in the hallway of the hotel a few teammates and I were gathering before heading down to the lake. I whispered to one of them “I’m frightened” and he whispered back “I am too”. This was the same frightening feeling I had when I attended my first group run in 2004. At 250 pounds I thought I didn’t belong there that day. Six years later knowing that one of the people I look up to most in life was frightened too, actually gave me some relief and the sense that I did belong.
Thousands of people were on the streets of Penticton at 6 am that morning. I found my way to the transition area, visited my swim-to-bike bag and my bike-to-run bag one last time (as if something disappeared overnight). On impulse I decided to put my inhaler in the pocket of my running skirt, at this point I wasn’t thinking I’d need it as I never do, but I didn’t know where else to put it. Lastly, I said hello to Grease Lighting, my triathlon bike, making sure it was ok after spending the night outside without my supervision (ok really I was checking the tires and putting my nutritional needs on the bike). Bento box now filled with Clif Bloks, Mojo bar pieces and Salt Tabs, I put on my blueseventy wetsuit and headed for the water.
The crowd at the swim start was lined up for about a half mile alongside the lake and was at least five people deep. Although not my first time at an Ironman event, it was my first time as an athlete looking out into the crowd, and I was awed. 2800 nervous triathletes at the beginning of a 2.4 mile swim is an awesome site and I was so inspired!
The crowd chanted the count down, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and the cannon sounded as thousands of yellow and red caps dove into the water. I walked slowly as others hurried past me. Finally, I looked at my watch realizing a full minute and thirty seconds had passed and I wasn’t even knee deep yet. I took a deep breath and dove in. I could not believe how clear the water was. I was able to see the bottom of the lake, I could see my hand extending out in front of me on every stroke and I could see most of the swimmers around me…helpful for not getting kicked in the face or gut! I would once again wind up swimming next to my friend Mary who I always try to make laugh as we swim along.
My mind likes to day dream a little when I swim for a long time. I thought about the morning swims during training where I would drag myself out of bed, drive up to Boulder and show up 45 minutes before my friends with hopes that when they showed-up to do the same exact workout they didn’t beat me out of the water and finish before me. I became more confident as I remember by the end of the season I was sleeping in a bit more and finishing the workouts with them.
I rounded the first house boat then the second and I was now swimming towards the shore. Having counted the buoys on the way out (yes, a true Szabo OCD moment) I was now counting down the number of buoys to the finish. Sighting near the shore I could see many athletes struggling to walk on the rocks that lined the bottom of the lake, I made the decision that I would swim until I hit the ramp using the rocks as leverage to drive me forward. 1:31, the longest distance and absolutely the best swim I had ever done!
Two volunteers helped remove my wetsuit while another one scurried to find my transition bag. I’m generally pretty stupid after getting out of the water but who wouldn’t be after laying horizontal for over an hour depleted of oxygen and then you jump up as fast as you can and the blood now rushes away from your brain.
Having thoroughly walked through the transition area the day before and taping a check off list to the inside of my bag I knew exactly what needed to be done and was confident I wouldn’t forget anything. Plus FastForward Coach Anna was volunteering in the tent paying special attention to her F4 “lip stick chicks!” Clothes were changed, pockets filled with baggies of Clif Endurance powder, check off list checked and a last minute decision to put arm warmers on, and now I was ready to hit the road for 112 miles.
I knew the first 40 miles of the bike were somewhat flatish with one small climb. I stuck to the plan, (which yes was printed out and taped to my aero bars), of staying well under my target heart rate. The Okanagan Valley was filled with the most beautiful and freshest fruit crops. Apple and peach trees lined the road with hundreds of fully ripened grape vines. At my pace I can take in the scenery 🙂
I stopped at mile 30 to refill my bottles and geared up mentally as I knew in about 10 miles I’d be climbing. When I made the turn onto Richter Pass there was an aid station and I really needed to empty my bladder so I stopped again. This is where I met up with Susan and Marianne. It was comforting to see them both but I worried about my pacing as I shouldn’t be catching up to them. Susan assured me of how strong of a cyclist I am. We climbed Richter together leap frogging one another as we all have individual strengths (Marianne hammers up those climbs so effortlessly, Susan stays to her power and me…I fly down those mountains like I’m on a rollercoaster!)
We leap frogged for much of the way to special needs at mile 75. In the distance you could see the downpour of rain on Yellow Lake, our next long climb. I had wondered how those in front were dealing with the weather and when/if the ‘leaders of the back’ would get any of it. The temps did drop and there was some light rain leading up to the out and back near special needs but certainly nothing like I could see happening at the top of Yellow Lake. Once at special needs I repacked my pockets with Clif Endurance, refilled my bento box with other assorted Clif goodies and headed back out for what I hoped would be 37 miles of great climbing effort followed by a smokin’ fast descend back into Penticton.
My hopes were short lived as it was 30ish miles of climbing into a nasty head wind! By now my chest was starting to get tight from the cold winds coming at me and the hot air I was pushing out. As I climbed to Twin Lakes my breathing became louder and louder and I couldn’t get a full breath. My heart rate was high and I knew I had started ‘burning some matches’ by continuing on at this effort. I came up on Jennifer before we summit who was so excited to see me, I am sure we talked the entire way to the top. I mentioned to her that until 6 weeks prior I had never ridden a 100 miles before. Now, I had done it 4 times and love it!
As we started to descend we were still faced with the same strong head winds. You know there is something wrong when you are heading down a mountain at 11 mph and pedaling. Up until this point I hadn’t looked at my watch the entire ride but I looked down and realized that I really needed to get out on the run course to complete the 26.2 miles of running I had ahead of me. I opened my match book and burned every single one of those remaining matches going against the wind trying to get back into town (figuratively speaking as I would of likely started a forest fire!).
I was really looking forward to seeing each and every one of my F4 teammates out on the run course. We all really bonded this season and it was important for me to see them but also important to let them know I was going to make it! As I pedaled down Main Street I could see Win and then Ron nearing the finish. If all went as planned then I should have seen Scott at this time too.
I rushed into transition and changed as quickly as I could; still having trouble breathing I pulled out my inhaler and took two much needed puffs. I knew at this point that there wasn’t enough time in the race for me to actually finish by midnight. I could have stopped then and there, and many would have but I chose to run, and run until they told me I couldn’t.
As I headed out to the run course I heard a cheer coming from the VIP area it was Brodie! I was greeted by the cutest two-year-old smile in the world! Having figured that Scott would be nearing the finish line I thought it to be odd that Brodie and Liz were casually cheering from the VIP tent. I thought to ask Liz where Scott was but knew she’d likely not tell me if anything was wrong… instead telling me to focus on my race.
Out of transition lightning fast I saw Dirk on his way to the finish! I gave him a huge shout as he entered the finish chute and I headed out on the course. I met Anna at about mile 3. Tears began to flow as I feared I didn’t get off the bike with enough time to finish the run by midnight. Anna was very encouraging pointing out just how fast I’d have to run to make it. It would be close and quite a challenge but it gave me some confidence. By this time Marianne, Jennifer and Donna had all passed me and were now out in front.
I saw Philip next who stopped to give me a hug. I knew something was up and asked where Scott was. Philip assured me he was fine and I’d be seeing him shortly. It really meant a lot for me as an athlete to train all year and to be doing this race as an athlete with Scott, the guy who has been so instrumental in my life’s journey. Shortly after seeing Philip I gave a high four to Michael.
The next three miles I thought about all the things I wanted to say to Scott. How proud I was of him and for showing me perseverance today. (Scott was in that storm I could see miles away on the bike and suffered a bit of hypothermia, nearly causing him to drop from the race.) How awesome it was that we trained all season together as athletes…Mono-a-mono, we were equals this season. For always pushing me to find comfort in discomfort. Thanking him for always correcting my words when I say them wrong, use them wrong or spell them incorrectly :). At the mile 6ish aid station I caught eye contact with him. He was on the other end of the aid station heading my way; instant tears come rolling out of my eyes. I hugged him with an endearing embrace as he encouraged me to stay focused, move swiftly and he’d be seeing me at the finish line. Not a word did I say to him. I just cried with joy, excitement and fear.
One by one my teammates were running the other direction to the finish. Dougie, Erin, Tom, Tomko, Marjie, Chris, Tim, Kathleen. By now the sun was setting, I hardly noticed the sunset as I was focused on my run 7 minutes walk 1 minute plan. This was perfect as I needed to do 15 minute miles, so at the end of the second 7 min run I should have been another full mile along. Susan and Jiva passed by, then Sue. When I saw Barb, I ran up to her letting her know I was not going to fail, I didn’t know at the time what I meant by it, but I was repeating that thought over and over in my head.
Ann and Rhonda looked like professional first time ironman athletes. Their smiles gave me a bit of an up lift, knowing they were doing so well! By now it was pretty dark and I was slowing down mile by mile. I saw Marianne, Doug, Russ, Jennifer, Donna and Lida all before the turn around. That was it, all teammates accounted for all having made the turn around so far…except me.
Having not looked at my watch since leaving transition I was not completely aware of the exact time. My lungs were tight; I must have puffed on that inhaler six or seven times out there. My head was filled with negative thoughts when a truck pulled up next to me. Talking from the passengers’ window the man let me know that I had three minutes to make the cut off. I asked him how far away it was and he thought it was about ½ mile…There’s no way I can run a true ½ mile in 3 minutes. I started to find peace with not making the cut off time. This was it, it would be over and there’s nothing I could have done about it. Out of anger I picked up the pace and ran faster then I have ever run before. I felt sensations of throwing up as I passed the crowd of three people that were still out there cheering. Then I heard my watch chime, it was nine o’clock and I thought for sure I’d be told to stop as I neared the turnaround. I kept running, rounded the turn around and began running in the other direction. Yep, I was still running, no one stopped me. I looked around sort of suspicious as to why I was still running. I was handed my special needs bag, which I took thinking this must be where they tell me I didn’t make the cut off. The woman asked if I had a jacket in there letting me know it gets cold around the lake. I quickly took out my long sleeve and kept running… still suspicious. My watch chimed, it had to be nine o’clock right???? (Never mind the fact that my watch could just be fast)
That same truck came up to me again. I expressed to them that I wasn’t out here fooling myself. I knew what time it was and I knew my pace. They understood but wanted to know if they could ride behind to light up the road for me anyway.
I started praying in song that I needed some sort of miracle. 3 hours left 13.1 miles after already having gone 13.1 miles, 112 miles on the bike and 2.4 miles in the water…it was a long shot but it could happen! Over and over I said to myself and whoever was listening that I needed some sort of miracle as I kept running. Two miles later I got that prayer answered. God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we want him to…and this would be one of those times when God’s answer wasn’t what I was asking for.
My miracle came in the form of a man named Matt. He ran up behind me and started to let me know just how far behind I was. He complimented me for making the cut off and informed me that I was the last one. No stranger to this kind of conversation, this time I very calmly asked him if he wanted to take my bib and my chip and just let me go. His response was that is not how Ironman likes to do things. They really needed to account for all of their racers and their safety.
We ran next to each other for another mile sharing my story of how far I’ve come and what exactly this meant to me. He said that was a whole lot more to be proud of then just this one day. That sounded an awful lot like what Scott told the team the night before and what I had thought of when I woke up that morning. Just then I asked him if I could “phone a friend” and I called Scott.
I was in a tough position and wasn’t sure the best decision to make at the time. Scott and I discussed the situation I had in front of me. I was assured that he and most of my teammates would be at the finish line waiting no matter what time I got there, but not the way I imagined it to be. There would be no crowd chanting, banging their hands against the rails and stomping their feet in the metal stands that lined the finishing chute. We also discussed what it means to fail, and someone who goes out there the way I did having the guts to fail is actually not a failure at all.
Matt explained that one day’s event does not make the person, it’s the journey. I was driven back to the transition area passing other teammates as they neared the finish. I had two choices at this moment. I could A) walk back to the hotel, close my hotel room door and shut myself off from my husband, team and the world feeling sorry for myself or B) I could meet everyone at the finish and celebrate in all of our successes. I chose B, the tougher of the two, and have been celebrating my 130.6 mile journey ever since!