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Having the cards stacked against me

My Grandpa and I walking off the track after the 400m Championship Finals. I was upset to have finished 2nd. Family wasn't allowed on the track, but he was proud of me and snuck on anyway.

When my Grandpa Brown was playing Euchre, he would call trump having only the queen and an ace. Somehow, he managed to get all the tricks in the round. Even without the strongest cards to play, he would still win. Logically, it made no sense. But that was the way he lived his life. He played the cards he was dealt to the fullest, no matter what they were. He lived his life on a whim, on purpose. He never let anything hold him back with a “why not me” outlook. He shared this mentality with all of his grandchildren and truly thought that we were all capable of so much more than we could have ever imagined for ourselves.

I wish I could say that I lived my life this way. I did not. I have struggled with confidence and self assurance my whole life. I have doubted and second guessed anything that pushed me past my comfort zone. I cast aside dreams. I made myself small and safe.

Then came Jeff. This is a man who, with no formal training, decides he is going to run a fast 5km and then wins multiple events in that distance. This is a man who podiums in an OCR race wearing a Led Zeppelin sleeveless cotton t-shirt. This is a man who decides that racing a marathon in a fleece Christmas onesie would be fun. This is a man who won and set a course record in a 100 miler with minimal training. I would be lying if I said his way of living wasn’t infectious. I soon believed that I could do that too. Run my first marathon? Sure! Run my first ultra? Okay! Run my first 100 miler? Why not! Complete a full Ironman? Ummm…

Let me set the stage before I explain my hesitation with that last endeavour. As of January 2019, I didn’t know how to swim. I had not really ridden a bike since I was a kid and I didn’t own a road bike. Part of why I didn’t know how to swim is mostly because I panic in the water. It’s bad. Embarrassingly bad. So, it is safe to assume that I had never done a triathlon before. We signed up anyway. I didn’t share that with many people because, well…why would I think I could finish something that immense without any skill or experience.

I tried to learn. I had setbacks. I still panicked in the water and after multiple fittings and seat variations, I could not get rid of the pain in the saddle on my bike. I attributed it to my lack of knowledge and hoped everything would sort itself out. I armed myself with a triathlon coach who tried to keep me on task and accountable. Before I attempted the Ironman, I signed up for my first triathlon - the K-Town long course hosted by Multi-sport. I didn’t die, but I came close multiple times. Finishing the race almost last, I swore that I would never do another triathlon. I just could not imagine how I would be able to complete something so much longer and so much more difficult. My coach assured me that I just needed more training to feel confident. I was so certain that Jeff would agree with me that attempting the Ironman was still a ridiculous idea. Nope. We were still going.

This past weekend we traveled 9.5 hours by car to attempt the Ironman 140.6 in Maryland. As we drove, I contemplated the odds. If I swam as fast as I could, I might make the cut-offs, but I didn't have time to freak out with anxiety attacks in the water. If I pedalled hard enough, I might make the bike cut-off, but I had to keep spinning my legs. If I had anything left for the run, I had to keep moving to get across the line before the 17 hour time limit. I truly and genuinely wanted to finish. But based on the math, I really wasn’t fast enough.

As the race drew near, I thought about my Grandpa a lot. I felt like he would have tried something like this. With minimal months of training, he would have raced alongside with people who have devoted years committed to this sport. He would have believed that he deserved to be there too. Feeling unsure of what would happen, I lined up at the start of the Ironman in my wetsuit with my cap and goggles on because, why not?

Jeff and I finishing Ironman Maryland 140.6 with a chip time of 15:56:33

When I turned to chat with my fellow athletes at the back of the pack, a familiar face smiled back. Jeff had lined up right behind me. I didn’t know that his plan from day one was to race the whole thing with me. He knew I doubted myself and that I was terrified. Throughout the next 16 hours, he defended me against the countless stinging jellyfish, the man who grabbed me to push me under so he could swim over me, the gatorade bottles that I couldn’t open on my bike ride, the brazen cyclists who cut me off, the problematic kidney pain, and the dreadful realization that I would have to power-walk the marathon. Jeff defended me against my demons. The ones who said, “You can't do this. You are going to drown. You are going to crash your bike. You are too slow.” I can honestly say that I would not have had the determination to finish had I not had Jeff reminding me that I deserved to be there. Jeff would have finished many hours before I did. He surrendered a much earlier time to make sure I believed in myself.

My Grandpa Brown died right before I started dating Jeff, so unfortunately they never got to meet. They share the same spirit - the same zest for adventure. They don’t focus on limitations. The crazier the idea, the more it appeals to them. They take great joy in seeing an underdog take the win because they believe that anything is possible.

I’m still not certain how I crossed the finish line last weekend. I was undertrained. I was paralyzed by fear. I was out of my league. But, I completed an Ironman...holding just a queen and an ace.

- Happy Trails

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