17 Jun Half Ironman and a Whole Lot More
Last week, I completed my first Half Ironman Triathlon. A triathlon is a sport that consists of three consecutive events, usually – and in this case – swimming, biking and running. The Half Ironman distance is a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run. It’s long. It’s not easy. But it’s an amazing experience and I loved it.
The particular race I did was in a beautiful and very hilly part of Connecticut. I looked at other, flatter race courses for my first time at this distance, but figured that for my first Half Ironman, I’d really go for it with a challenging race, plus I enjoy training in cold weather so a race early in the season sounded perfect. I started a training program for the race about 4 months prior to the race and trained about 7-11 hours each week during that time.
When it came down to the day, the training really supported me, but my ability to be where I was and experience each moment without getting lost in the past or future was my biggest support. I was able to be there for it. Not just go through the motions, complaining to myself about soreness, discomfort, people around me, my own performance or anything else.
One of my concerns was that I’d get a stomach cramp during the run. Over the last few years, I’d been experiencing stomach cramps more and more on long runs, usually manageable, but always uncomfortable and sometimes very painful. In my last long run prior to the race, the cramps were so intense that I had to walk a large part of the run. I was worried that experiencing cramps over 13.1 hilly miles at the end of this race would be a horrible, painful disaster.
As I set out on the run, I was surprised that, despite the overall blanket of fatigue I was feeling, I also felt strength and energy in my legs and body. As I allowed my feet to find their rhythm underneath me, the activity felt doable and even fun. About 4 or 5 miles into the run, I had the thought, “wow I feel pretty good, I haven’t even felt any stomach cramps.” Shortly after that, I could feel a sharp, tight sensation collecting itself in the right side of my stomach. Usually when this sensation occurs, something in me panics, I feel disappointed in myself, like I’ve done something wrong or bad that caused it. But that didn’t happen this time. I somehow knew that having debilitating pain was not an option for me in that moment. Then a few things I had learned in the Kanes’ Freedom to Breathe and Art of Being a Healer seminar (as well as their books) came to me.
Through their work, I’ve learned a new way of looking at pain. I’ve discovered that sometimes, what I identify as pain is actually just a sensation that I am resisting (saying “no” to or wishing would go away).
So, I looked at this sensation I was feeling with my mind’s eye and described it to myself: the shape (a metal rod), the size (about 4 inches long), the texture (cold and hard). Then I kept breathing, feeling my feet hit the ground, and looked again: the shape, the size, the texture, the color. It was different this time, softer and lighter; I was moving steadily and it didn’t feel painful. Then I noticed that there were no more stomach cramps. They had dissolved and I hadn’t really done anything! The sensations would return after that in different parts of my stomach, with different shapes, sizes and colors and seeing them and identifying them became a game. And a fun game, at that. Then eventually, I noticed I was singing a song in my head, enjoying the mix of sun and shade, dirt and pavement, trees and grass, and the cramps were gone completely.
Sometimes it takes courage to look at the thing we want to call pain, since, well, it hurts! I thought that having that pain meant something about me, like “I must not be that good or strong,” “How can I let this happen after all of the training I did?!” or plain old “I just suck.” However, like all of the other old recordings in our head, those are just thoughts, not us.
At no point during my race did I feel severe pain, fear, anxiety or overwhelm. This is the first time I have not experienced at least one of those things in a triathlon. I’m not sure why or how this happened, but I am very grateful to have had the experience I did.