The Five Stages of Grief for Your Ironman DNF

Denial:

[on the bike course]
Of course blood sugars oscillating from 336 to 65 to 224 is acceptable!
How can I be dehydrated, it’s only 65 degrees right now!
I can’t stand the thought of taking in my fuel, but surely that feeling will pass!
Hills are soooooo easy!
I can DEFINITELY go the same pace in the second loop as I did in the first loop….with barely any calories in me….
This headwind is no problem! No problem at all!
I refuse to believe that I’m going to barf if I keep eating or drinking my sports drink!
Wait…is that the sweeper van? Nope, can’t be. Lalalala.
I’M TOTALLY GONNA FINISH BEFORE THE BIKE CUTOFF wait there’s my family YUP I CAN GO FASTER THAN I EVER HAVE ON MY TRAINING RIDES they have a car AND THEN I’M GONNA RUN A MARATHON ON AN EMPTY STOMACH nope it’s mile 85 and I’m cooked

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, I’M NOT FINISHING THE RACE?

Anger:

[dismounting, informing the volunteers I’m dropping out, shuffling to the car to drive to the nearest restaurant]
I wanted to finish, dammit! I worked so hard for this! Now I can’t tell people that I have diabetes AND I’m an Ironman triathlete. I can’t brag to my running teammates or coworkers. I can’t get an M-dot tattoo now! And I never even WANTED an M-dot tattoo!

I fantasized for months about crossing the finish line and Mike Reilly telling me I am an Ironman. In fact, he said on Friday at the athlete’s dinner, “You will be an Ironman!” LIES, MIKE, NOW IT IS ALL LIES.

 photo Meme-Angry.jpg

Bargaining:

[At restaurant, spending 90 minutes trying to choke down one glass of water and a plate of tortilla chips]
Are there spots left in, like, Florida? Chattanooga? Cozumel? Something soon that has an easier bike course?

No??

IF I FINISH I’LL GET THE STUPID M-DOT TATTOO! ON MY FACE!

Depression:

[Coming back to the finish line, that night, the day after the race, the day after the day after the race….]
I killed approximately 3% of the Amazon rainforest with all the tissues I used from crying. It would have been 4% but my bike jersey served as de facto handkerchief on the first round or two.

 photo ironkitty sad meme.jpg

Acceptance:

[past, present, future]
Packing up to go back to New York was arduous. I kept stopping for crying jags when unpacking my transition bags, or realizing that a special homemade shirt I had in the run special needs bag was now in the trash because Ironman doesn’t save your shit. I found a new respect for divorcees because I realized that this is probably what a divorce feels like, but that moment every day for several months on end.

Then “Better Days” by Springsteen came on shuffle, and he sang, “Every fool’s got a reason for feeling sorry for himself…” and I told myself to put my big girl panties on and deal with it.

Then a U2 song came up that reminded me of a mortifying moment in high school, and I told myself that the whole world probably wouldn’t care about this in 10 years…..just like high school.

But forget the world, because I knew no one but jerks would judge me for dropping out. I cared.

My first attempt at Ironman and I DNF’ed. I felt lucky to start, lucky to even be healthy and able to train at that level. And I was simultaneously crushed that the months of time, effort, and sacrifice I had put in to this goal….came up short.

I had a lot of little things pile up– often against my plan or previous race experience– that resulted in a bad day. Couldn’t have predicted things like going low during the swim or getting so queasy that I couldn’t handle the fuel that I typically loved to stuff in my face. September 13th, 2015 was not my day to become an Ironman and there’s nothing I can do to go back and change that.

So I sucked it up and packed my stuff, throwing away as much Ironman-brand crap as I could. I flew home to Brooklyn and went that night to hang out with my Team in Training athlete friends, who were universally supportive and encouraging. Hell, everyone’s been supportive and encouraging. My wonderful, badass friend and teammate Aimee, who DNF’ed her first Ironman last year, remarked that only by having a bad race and dropping out did she realize how blessed she was. It’s easy to support someone in the good times…..but when people show up for you in the bad times, you know it comes from the heart.

I’ve complained (stage 2) and bawled (stage 4) some more since then. But I’ve also taken many, many deep breaths while re-reading everyone’s emails, texts, Facebook messages, buttons (yup, homemade buttons) and more. The crushing disappointment will pass, but I hope to have such amazing friends and family in my life forever.

I read Meb Keflezighi’s biography, “Run to Overcome,” cover-to-cover on the plane to and from Madison. After discussing a series of back-to-back triumphs and failures in his running career, he wrote this:

Winning in life doesn’t happen when you overcome one thing– do or die. It’s persevering, knowing that difficulties are bumps in the road, not the end of the world. It’s continuing to do the right things, knowing your time will come. After all, you have to conduct yourself like a champion before you can ever win a championship.

Whatever you do, then, give it your best. Persevere in overcoming obstacles. When you do, you’ll be running to win.

He signed my book with the same trademark phrase– “To Caroline: best wishes and run to win, Meb.” So I’m going to follow his advice and give my best to my next challenge, whatever that is.

Well, I know what it’s going to be. I’m doing the Brooklyn Marathon, because there’s NO WAY that I’m letting all this endurance go to waste. I guess that’s a blend of stage 3 and 5?

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3 thoughts on “The Five Stages of Grief for Your Ironman DNF

  1. Caroline! I was super-bummed to learn late on Sunday night that the day wasn’t right for you to complete this crazy thing you and I started together. Whether you decide to do another one some day or not, you’re a big deal in my book.

  2. Oh Caroline, my heart hurts for you in this. I wish I could go back and change the outcome for you, but you even hinted at this in your post: this will make you better in the long run, even if it doesn’t feel like it now. It will motivate you and whatever it leads you to do, you will give it your best. I’m with Jeff, you *are* a big deal! I’m incredibly proud of you for the training and the commitment you’ve given this. You are one of my sources of inspiration!! Thank you for that!

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