By Ann Brennan
A week before heading to Ironman Austria someone asked me what I would do if I couldn’t finish. I was speechless. Not finish? That wasn’t an option.
But it turns out it was. Although I had trained well and had done everything in my power to prepare for the heat, I found myself lying in the back of an ambulance connected to a bag of fluid knowing that all of the work had been for nothing.
After my DNF, I was gutted. For almost a week, I wore sunglasses so people couldn’t see my tear rimmed eyes. For months, I couldn’t even think about racing without crying.
The following summer I completed one triathlon. It went better than I could have hoped but somehow that didn’t matter. Although I had been training for two years before my DNF and continued to train afterwards, I no longer felt like a triathlete and I did something worse than DNF. I quit triathlon altogether.
Last year, after a seven year hiatus, I returned to triathlon, completing one Olympic Distance, one Half Marathon Distance and one full Ironman distance Aqua Velo (the Ironman minus the run). All three of these triathlons went really well. My run and my swim both continue to improve but my bike times were where I really excelled. My bike times were better by far than anything I could have imagined.
The season should have been encouraging. It should have helped me to gain the confidence I need to take on the Ironman again. Logically, based on my training and my results, I understand there is no reason I can’t complete an Ironman.
But the season taught me two things I didn’t expect. First, I am not over that DNF. It is still hanging there, haunting me.
But beyond that, I have coming to realize, I don’t want to just complete Ironman this year. I don’t want to go in with the idea that getting around the course is the best I can do. Instead, I want to be the best Ironman athlete I can be.
I want to spend as little time in the saddle and on my feet as I possibly can. I want to set a goal and meet it.
When I talk to other athletes, whether they are thinking about completing their first 5k, taking on the challenge of a century ride or looking to become a triathlete, I always tell them that knowing what you want is the first step. Endurance sport is as much mental as it is physical so if you want something and are willing to work for it, you can have it.
This is what I tell other people. But somehow, it isn’t what I have been telling myself. Instead, I have been questioning my ability. Can I do this?
Yes, yes, I can. I have committed. Over the past several months I have trained for my first 70.3 of the season, the first race in a series of races that will lead to the Beach to Battleship Triathlon in October.
This weekend I will be competing in the Eagleman 70.3 and while it will help me physically to get through this course, the big step will be mental. The problem I face with the DNF is not that it has been hanging over me. It has been hanging in front of me. It has been keeping me from moving forward. With the training I have been doing, the focus on one step at a time, I have been able to push the DNF to the side.
By pushing it out of the way, I can now see the goal more clearly. This is the first step, but there will be many more and without the obstacle of that DNF hanging there, there is nothing standing in my way.