It’s been almost a month since I raced Ironman Argentina and I haven’t been able to open up a blog post window until now. The words have come in conversation, in streams of consciousness, and in scraps and notes, but strangely, not here — the very place where I’ve been able to write honestly about everything triathlon:
The joys of firsts, the delirious successes, the character-building flops.
Somewhere between mile 6 and 7 of the Ironman Argentina run, I quit Ironman racing. Of course, this has happened before; anyone who races these things is more than familiar with the fleeting “I’ll never do this again,” only to sign up for another one just days or weeks later.
This time it was different. It was a mental, physical, emotional, and dare I say spiritual wave of “fuck this shit.” (Apologies to my more refined readers; sometimes, profanity provides the most authentic expression. And thanks to a special Winnipeg yoga instructor for the courage to call it what it was.)
Close friends, training partners, family, and longer-term readers of this blog will remember the mysterious, intense chest pain/pressure I have referred to in the past as “Gus” who visits me at every long course triathlon. I will spare you the repetition of tests, diets, and drugs/treatments I’ve tried in hopes of calming him down, simply to say that when he hit on that cold and windy stretch of the Mar Del Plata run course, I was done. My body had declared checkmate, and I gave in.
There were tears. Tears for the annoying predictability of my races and my own dog headed determination to keep trying. Tears for all that unrequited training. Tears for that sub-4 hour Ironman marathon goal. Tears of envy, and tears of grief, knowing it was time to say goodbye to something I love. Tears for what I was sure would be my first Ironman DNF.
After an hour-long pity party on the side of the run course, something changed. I decided that I hadn’t come all that way to DNF. I finish what I start, even if there was no reason to finish beyond finishing itself. I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, or even myself. I had done 7 of these things, after all. But finish lines have a magnetism to them, and I picked my salt-stained, shivering body up off the grass and set out to walk a very dark 20km to forge my way there.
After the first smile, it got easier. I talked with other athletes, some who’d planned to walk, and others whose races were largely done, like mine. I joked with the volunteers, shouting “Vamos! Vamos!” and ladling out chicken broth with equal parts enthusiasm. I was treated to 5 kilometers of conversation about failure, goals, and identity. In my 8 Ironman races, those 3 hours are the ones I won’t soon forget.
It was a quiet, solitary, and unsung finish. I had gone out not with a bang, but with a whisper.
I’m not saying I’ll never do another Ironman. My inkling, however, is that if I do, it’s going to be a few years down the road. This realization unleashed a full spectrum of emotions over the days and weeks that followed — they came on the rugged roads of Northern Argentina and while snuggled into Toronto and Winnipeg Christmas festivities. And they are still coming.
I watched as the narcissistic emotions like anger and frustration morphed into those of relief, release, and even curiosity. Who will I be without the goal that has, in many ways, lent structure to my life over the past 7 years? What new (or old!) activities will I find to fill those hours? How will I channel my physical energy? Who is post-Ironman Jen?
A new year—that arbitrary and yet deeply meaningful point in our calendar—seems like as good a time as any to find out.
This piece of writing in no way reflects the overall experience of traveling to and around Argentina to participate in the race, which was enhanced by a handful of truly lovely people. James, Jordan (read her report for details on the day and the course), Sarah, and Guillermo—you made one of the biggest disappointments of my year more fun, interesting, delicious, and memorable than it ever could’ve been on my own, and for that, I am truly grateful.