Ironman Netherlands ~ Maastricht-Limburg

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This is a fairly difficult race report to write because honestly, I’m unsure of what to include or exclude. Or how to express where I went Sunday. I journey’ed to depths in my mind, that I didn’t know existed. Dark places. Places that I’ve talked other athletes out of going to… or tried. Places that I never understood why or how a person could get to. Places that I just didn’t know existed in me. 

Being who I am though, it would be very remiss of me not to share my story…

I think it’s important to start on Friday night. The most important night of sleep before a Sunday race and I spent the night in WWII with mosquitoes and trying to figure out if the house is haunted or I’m going crazy. I think I got about 3 hours of sleep.
*the house was definitely haunted

Upon “waking” for the swim practice it was pouring down the rain. Mom and I head out and I just stop. This is stupid. We are going to walk down there (about a 10min walk) in the pouring rain, cold, swim for like 5 minutes, walk back, colder, and then rush to go get Luca. Just stupid. Swimming in that water isn’t going to prove anything more or less to me. I opted out. I tried to rack my brain; have I ever missed a swim practice!? I feel so off.
*I will NEVER advise nor condone an athlete to opt out of their race site swim practice session. While it may not or may have made an impact on my swim, it is a necessary part of your race prep!

It’s Saturday and we’re headed to the airport (it’s an hour away in Belgium). Mom questions, what’s the speed limit? I of course have no idea, I’m just driving. Probably 20 minutes later I point to the overhead speed control lasers and say those are speed traps. Top of the bridge, there sits a row of motorcycle police and sure enough, one takes off after me. He tails me for a few moments before waving me over and off the highway. We pull off the exit he directs us to and there’s a whole line of cars pulled over each with their own special motorcycle cop. A safety check? Nope, I was doing 149 in a 120. DAMN IT. Pay 113 euro right now, on the spot or stay here for the rest of your life. I handed over the cash and we were released. Son of a bitch. They are making a killing… lines of cars!

Finally, we make it to the airport and scoop up my lovey. My heart is still again.

We’re back in Maasricht for lunch, a perfect cafĂ© in the city center. We have a beer, munch on some French fries and wait for our food. And wait. And wait. And wait. What the holy food hell!? It’s nearly 2:30pm now. I have to have dinner in by 6:30… I’m not even going to be hungry! We are certain our waitress forgot to put our order in. Much like the egg situation at the grocery store, she has no answers. We pay for our drinks and leave. No lunch.

I’m actually still pretty calm and okay at this point, considering. Luca is making a beautiful dinner and I’m confident I will sleep hard tonight. I wasn’t even feeling so nervous about the race, but it still felt off; something just wasn’t right.

Dinner is done and I’m in bed and probably asleep by 8pm. I woke up a few times for the toilet but fell right back to sleep each time. Up at 0445 I feel rested. Now my nerves are brewing. But there’s something more. As I’m braiding my hair, mom and Luca make their way to our (incredibly huge) bathroom. It finally clicks what isn’t right. I don’t want to do this race. GULP. What!?
I don’t want this race. 
I ask if I can be candid and I admitted it out loud. Mom immediately rolls her eyes and insists it’s just race nerves. Perhaps…

We walk to transition and per my routine, I fill my water, set my nutrition, pump my tires, make sure my bike and run bags are in place, and head to the swim start.
*Side story: I didn’t have a position on the racks for my bike bag. My run bag position was fine, #139 and in a perfect place, right on the edge. But no bike #! They were missing 138, 139, and 140. I actually ended up having to hang my bag on the back side of the rack all by itself. 
Which worked out great, but just added to the confusing off'ness of this race.

At the swim start, I’m teary eyed and feeling so unprepared. I didn’t even test the water! How can I possibly swim this river!? I know this fear is normal so I go into my mantra, I can do this, just keep swimming, you’ve got this, you CAN do this Lisa. I remind myself as I remind my athletes before each race, feel the fear, and do it anyway.

I’m warming up, Luca is warming me up (I was SO happy to have him there). I suddenly realize, I FORGOT MY SLEEVES (I use a sleeveless wetsuit and then add TYR wetsuit sleeves, better shoulder rotation).
This isn’t the first time I’ve done this (*eyeroll* Ironman Arizona). Thank goodness the house is only a 10min walk. Mom rushes back for me and makes it back in plenty of time. She is truly the BEST Sherpa on earth and I’m happy to rent her out for your Ironman at a small fee. At a large fee; she’s worth it!

The athletes are lining up for a rolling start but there’s no clear direction of time so I just kind of get in with the pack. Seeing the photos now, I'm the little tiny girl in the middle of a bunch of tall men!
I probably went in the little bit too fast group… but it’s okay, I’m actually not feeling nervous now. I don’t feel excited however either, the idea of the day ahead of me feels very uncertain. I move with the flow, blow some kisses to my love, wave to mom, and splash!!

The river water was chilly at 68 degrees but the air was more chill so it felt good. It tasted and felt fresh. Lots of kayak and water support, plenty of buoys to site and supposedly a current against us. 

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My swim was great! I felt strong and confident and was enjoying the river. Can you even believe I’m saying that!? I got kicked in the face once but mostly had my own space. Considering the narrow river, I was surprised. The swim went upstream for 1.2 miles, we exited the course on the back side of a little island, re-entered (an Australian style exit), and downstream for 1.2 miles, passing the start, and coming back upstream for the final stretch.

I was shocked to hit the turn-around at 44 minutes but quite pleased. Especially since I didn’t really notice a current against me. I kept my pace and swam back… Again, I didn’t notice much of a current but this was my first IM swim feeling so strong. Maybe this race is gonna be okay after all!
Passing the swim start was no problem until we made that turnaround. NOW I felt the current!! Holy shit, we were all struggling and fighting to get to the swim exit! It was maybe 200 meters or so and we were swimming in place. In fact, I even got pushed up against the bridge (well nearly, I could see the scum and barnacles on the concrete and I was fighting like hell not to get pushed into it!!!). I literally had to push a woman off of me because the current was pushing her on me. That part SUCKED!! But finally, a volunteer is grabbing my arm and assisting me up the ramp. Swim done!! I hear mom and Luca cheering but I’m quite disoriented from the struggle and rush on to transition.
Swim time: 1:33:35

As always, a quick transition swapping swim gear for bike gear. I felt the chill and opted for my shrug (so glad I did, I never even took it off until the run).

I’m headed out on the bike. At this point I think I’m still okay. That lasted for only a short time. After what felt like an eternity on the bike, I look at my watch and I’m just now hitting 5 miles. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Within the first 5 miles, I was miserable. It wasn’t hard. Nothing hurt. I was just miserable. There was NOTHING inside of me that wanted to bike another 107 miles. The hours that followed were the most mentally brutal I’ve ever spent with myself…

I am often asked how I spend so many hours out there on my bike, how I do it. I smirk, you really have to like yourself. And it’s true! I’m on my bike for hours and hours every week in my own head. There are two parallel roads in there: happiness and torture. Plenty of roads weave back and forth between happiness and torture such as curves of confidence, up-hills of pain, downhills of glee, sprints of anger, and intervals of challenge or competition. Meanwhile inner bad ass self is bragging about how bad ass she is, how many miles she’s conquered, proud and boastful. Inner candy ass self is whining about how slow she is, how weak she is, how bad she sucks, and how to quit. Usually~always bad ass overpowers candy ass. She’s way stronger, more disciplined; she knows who she is. Candy ass is a coward and retreats.

And that’s why this ride was so different, so difficult. Where was my bad ass?

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The bike was a 2 loop course of (just less than) 56 miles each. Total elevation gain was over 4,000 feet (pretty tough). There were several very large climbs on the front followed by a flat and (what should have been) fast section, one more very large climb towards the end, and then back into the city for loop two or T2. In any other race, perhaps on any other day even, this course was awesome! Challenging but doable, a beautiful landscape, low wind, perfect temps, shaded, smooth pavement.

What was wrong with me!? I had no power; everyone was passing me. No will; my character falling apart. No desire; I didn’t care. No motivation; who have I become?

I decided by mile 25 that I was not going to finish this Ironman.
I didn’t want it.
I was pissed. Disappointed. Unhappy.
I obviously had to finish the loop but my plan was set. I was going to bike until I found Luca, Mom, and Bob and announce my termination of the day.

I was sorting through how I would explain my decision. I wasn’t hurt; this wasn’t a medical exit. Although my bike (common derailer issue) was driving me nuts, this wasn’t a bike malfunction exit. Although powerless, strength wise, I wasn’t tired or couldn’t not physically finish.
I was sorting through how I would face my athletes, how I could continue being a respected Coach… how I could possibly motivate others when I can’t motivate myself. I’m a failure.

I fought for inner bad ass, please come out and bike with me! Where are you!?
I would try to convince myself, I can do this, it’s okay… it’s just another bike ride. I look at my watch, mile 32. Only!? The cry lump lingered; the frustration grew. There's just no way. I don’t want this. I have to pull myself out. There’s NO WAY I can do this loop again. I was completely mentally defeated.

As the first loop finishes, I see Mom and Luca. I pull off. They were all smiles and so excited but quickly saddened with my obvious struggle. I was determined not to let them talk me out of my decision although, I’ve just realized, somewhere inside of me knew better because even through the suffering, I maintained my nutrition (mostly) and hydration. I believe that was also just the habit of my training though.

I don’t recall exactly what I said to them, but I expressed my distress… I knew they’d try to talk me out of it. No. There is no more going forward. I do not WANT to.
Mom was sympathetic but very frank with me, if you don’t want to finish this race, we will support you. But how are you going to feel about that decision later? How are you going to manage the rest of this day, pulling your gear out of transition, watching the other athletes, hearing the finish line? How are you going to rest with yourself after giving up not only this race, but THE race that puts you in legacy status? She made it very much about self-ego. And future self. 

I feel like I had this similar conversation with myself during that first loop and I didn’t have answers. I didn’t have excuses. I didn’t know. It just didn’t feel good; I wasn’t having fun anymore. I didn’t care.
But I also felt ashamed.
Knowing I would disappoint my entire world broke my heart. And even more, disappointing myself; everything I stood for, worked for, believed in. It was all falling out from under me. I’m a fraud. A failure. A quitter.

That is obviously not who I am nor who I want to be. Maybe it was the shame, maybe it was something deeper. Definitely unexplainable. But, forgetting the torment of the first loop, I had 54 miles ahead of me. It’s a common distance ride for me. It’s a GOBA day. A lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, apathy running through my veins…
FINE, I pulled myself back on that seat and pushed forward. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. 

Those last 54 miles were long. Slow. Unhappy. Cruel even. I beat myself to a pulp. I talked myself down, ridiculed myself… I was savage. I could barely stomach my nutrition. I tried to figure out every which way out of this Ironman. How to justify it.
I was one of the last cyclist on the course; I was sure. I was alone; suffering with this callous self. A course that so easily could have been the best yet, a PR, so enjoyable. I was everything an Ironman shouldn’t be. I doubted I would see the finish line. Even if I managed to complete the bike portion, my passion was gone, my conviction for the finish robbed.

As all bad things do, it ended. I walked into T2 pushing my bike in calm anguish. The run is usually my absolute favorite and I knew I would force myself to the course but I wasn’t looking forward to it. Despite, a quick transition and I headed towards the roar of the city.
Bike time: 7:37:00

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The first mile or two passed relatively quick. I can’t say I felt good, but I was off the bike. So there’s that. The run course was 4 loops in and out of the city of Maastricht. One hill was claiming lives but otherwise, flat and full of fans. The good bad thing about international races is kilometers. They pass by quickly, but there are more of them. And/but I can never match up my miles/walk intervals/aid station stops correctly. I need to just swap to kilometers already. I mean, I live in Italy now. Seems sensible.

Each run loop was just over a 10k. I came upon mom and Luca near the end of the first loop. I remember kinda cursing, being aggravated, exclaiming my lack of want for this race, but obviously still moving forward. What choice is there at this point!? Still, I didn’t want it anymore! I didn’t care. I was moving only to get it done. I see all the athletes around me with their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd loop complete ~ little colored bracelets on ~ and I want to scream! I want to stop! The worst part of it all, because I’m still okay physically, is the dreadful knowing that there’s no other choice. Run, jog, walk… whatever, to get this over with. I question again and again, what is wrong with me?!

Eventually, in my run/walk interval chaos, I was upon a few English athletes that seemed to be contemplating the same and practicing the run/walk intervals. I overheard the girl saying she had the rest of this lap and two more to go. ME TOO!! Near the same pace, I easily joined them for the company and distraction.  

The girl is Lizzy. An England native, at 30 years old, she’s set out to finish her very first Ironman. As doubtful about her first finish that I was for my 13th, we agreed immediately to do this together. I saw light. I was her motivation (as lacking as I was) as much as she was mine (as lacking as she felt). We talked about everything. It’s amazing how close you can become with someone in such a short time on an Ironman race course. We truly got each other through those final miles. 

We were down to running 1 minute, walking 4. Or 5. Or however long we needed. Both hurt. Running hurt more. We were so tired. So over it. But here we were… a 5k to the finish. The crowds were much thinner. It was dark. We were very happy to be together. We choked back tears of appreciation for one another. 

I briefed Lizzy, when we get to the final circling stretch of the finish line, take it! I wanted to see her cross. I wanted to feel her joy and thrill in that moment of fame. I welled up with pride for her.

And then it was my turn. The rumble of an Ironman finish line crowd is so indescribable. The lights, the music, the stardom of it all. It’s not just something we hear or see, we feel it deep in our body… Strangers yelling my name, cheers and screams of excitement…  in that moment, I am at the top of everything that I am. Every ounce of doubt and anguish drains and the realization I AM an Ironman.
Run time: 6:01:43

I didn’t even have the energy to cry. I just wanted to vomit. The sugar, cola, and ISO caught up and I needed it out of my belly. Luca and Mom met me at the finish line and we made our way back to transition to collect my gear, puking along the way. It was done though. I don’t know how, I don’t know what I’m made of that I perservered, but I did.

Being completely real, I'm not proud of myself. I'm not feeling like, well, in the end I finished and that's all that matters. No. I'm trying to wrap my brain around what happened and why and what could I, should I have done differently?! What was it about this race? This day? Is my Ironman career over? Am I burnt out? Have I reached the end? Was it a fluke? Was it just unlucky #13? 
Why didn't I want this? I'm quite disappointed that I didn't find joy in an event that I love SO much; that I'm so passionate about. 
Then again, even in the face of quitting, set on walking away from this Ironman, I didn’t quit. What made me want to quit? What made me not quit? How can I use these thoughts and wants to influence other athletes not to quit? How do we figure out what works for you not to quit? What can I say as a Coach or teach you as a spectator, or friend/family to an athlete who is set on quitting? 
What can I learn from this day? And what can I teach the next in preparation for it?

Even though I'm feeling let down, a bit failed, as with every Ironman, I walked away a different person. A better me. One who reached deeper than known depths to be more than I thought I was. One who went into battle with herself and even though lost, won. 

And to be honest, I don’t know where I’m at right now with it. I have Ironman Italy in a few weeks and… do I want it? I don’t know yet. I think it’s going to take that time and continued training to figure it out. So many things I’ve learned about myself I guess and so many directions to take training and racing, AND Coaching...

All of this said, Ironman Netherlands was a beautiful course. Maastricht was the coolest city! Race day was so perfect, ideal conditions. Support was superior ~ spectators and volunteers ROCKED 140.6 miles! Somehow I can take the hardest races with the worst conditions and step up to the challenge but give me perfect race conditions and I fall apart. HA! I guess at the end, yes it is done. And yes, after 5 years of hard work I can apply for Legacy for the World Championship in Kona.
Race time: 15:23:06

It's also important for you to know that there WERE moments of happiness on the course. I had a great swim! Even though it wasn't my fastest IM swim, it was my strongest. I was confident and felt good the whole time in the water. The hills on the bike course (despite my misery) were fun. I'm really glad I had Italian mountains to climb in preparation. Mom and Luca bebopping all over the run course was awesome. They had a good time and were SO supportive. I looked forward to seeing them in new spots and always wondered where they would pop up next. They really took great care of me in my fragile state. The course was beautiful too... I feel very lucky to race and experience all of these races in different countries and I'm very grateful for the ability to tackle the challenge of being an Ironman.

Thank you to all my friends, fans, athletes, and family that continue to support my adventures as I tri my way through life.

See a collection of Photos here :D :D  Thank you for reading and sharing in my journey to Kona!!

Ironman Italy... you are next! (I'll throw a maybe in there ;)