The most famous 3 words in the world of mountaineering are “Because it’s there” allegedly spoken by George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. We all have a Mt. Everest in our lives and some of us climb it because it’s there and we are determined to get to the other side and some of us just look at that mountain and let it get the better of us. We let it become part of who we are.
I’m not one to give myself any credit – at all, ever, so my road to redemption has been an interesting experience for me. How can a person legitimately not give herself credit for moving through 140.6 miles over a period of almost 17 hours, wanting to quit for all but about 42 minutes of it? That is my Everest.
Getting back to my Ironman story, I finished the race. I did it in spite of being very, very close to failing. I did in spite of leg cramps, nausea, sore muscles, tough conditions. I did it when I had missed a cut off by 4 minutes but at that point all I had to do was get to the finish line, a short 7.5k away. It still felt almost impossible, though, because I’d been racing for so long and my feet hurt so much and I was tired and I still felt sick. I had also watched those people who were trying just as hard as me miss the cut off and get put in golf carts and driven back to the finish line, minus their timing chips. I was still in it, so really, there wasn’t a choice. I had to to go on and I had to finish. And I did. And then I had to deal with how I felt about that.
I felt okay. I felt glad that I hadn’t let anyone down. I felt glad that I had gotten my medal and my hat and my shirt. I felt gratefully redeemed. I was so happy to find Kaaren and give her a hug and celebrate our mutual redemption. I was happy to call my coach and hear her say, “16:48 – were you trying to give me a heart attack!” and laugh, knowing she was really happy I finished.
At the same time I was unhappy with my performance; I was disappointed in myself. Yes – I was. I knew everyone in the world would tell me I was rock star, that I earned that finish, and intellectually I knew that, but emotionally I just wasn’t there. I wanted to get there, though. I did not want to just sit there, looking up at that mountain and letting it get the best of me.
The next morning Kaaren and I went to the Ironman village to check on our bikes and to return some arm warmers I’d bought the day before. It’s a pretty big area and they had set up a large stage where they were announcing the people who had placed in the race and having them come up on stage to get their trophies. Kaaren and I were at the far end of the park, away from the stage just chatting and plotting out the rest of our day.
They started calling the winners of the women’s 60-64 and I had a moment, remembering that going in to the race I was pretty sure I could place but at the end I knew it wasn’t possible. Who gets on the podium with a 16:48 finish when there are 12 people in your AG? As I was starting to wallow in my personal shame and disappointment an amazing thing happened – they called my name. OH MY GOD -THAT’S ME!!! I was in 5th and at Ironman the podium goes 5 deep.
I took off running across the park toward the stage. No stairs! No stairs!! I asked a volunteer standing there how to get up and by this time the trophies had been passed out and the photographer was doing his job. I ran around to the back as directed, got on the stage, ran to the front and a man said, “what place are you in” and I said, “Fifth – am I supposed to be up here?” and he handed me a trophy.
I didn’t care that I was holding up the show. I owned that stage – that was my moment! I joined the other ladies and lit the day a little brighter with my smile. Meanwhile, Kaaren had run across the park, full bore, to get a picture. The photographer gestured for us to hold up the trophies and I was only to happy to oblige.
So now how could I not be proud? How could I not fully appreciate my accomplishment? PODIUM!!! I finally decided to surrender and recognize that I didn’t have to stay at the bottom of the mountain, looking up. All I had to do was decide that that isn’t where I belong.
I still won’t say it was a great race because it wasn’t a great race – it was hard and I was suffering and I was unhappy and sick and I almost thought about giving up once or twice. But I didn’t give up, in fact I wouldn’t even let myself finish that thought. I did it. I hung in there. I finished and I ended up on the podium because 7 of the other 12 ladies either didn’t show up, didn’t finish or cheated (yes, the 1st place lady was DQ’d which is how I ended up in 5th) and so I was on the podium because I kept going until I finished. I earned my trip to the top of the mountain where I celebrate my accomplishments instead of finding fault. It’s a trip that’s been a long time in coming and I’m sure I’ll slide down the side more than once in the future but now that I’ve stood on the top and looked around, I’ve decided I rather like the view.