I recently received an email that told a heart-wrenching and inspirational story about relationships and triathlon. With the author's permission, it's published below.
Thanks very much for your email. I appreciate your well wishes on the NYC Tri. It truly was a hot day, but I didn't notice the heat...only that I was already dehydrated and cramping during the run. I still had a great time and vowed to get it right next year.
I won't dwell on the past too much, but like so many other endurance athletes I've had the honor of meeting, I got into triathlon as an alternate means of pain management. After just one year of marriage, my husband and I divorced. It was the worst year of my life as all the happiness that I imagined never manifested itself. Instead, it was a very lonely existence. My ex is an accomplished triathlete, having finished several Half-Iron and Ironman races, including Kona. He had so many wonderful qualities, but he centered his life around his training, and shortly after we got married and moved in together, he was unable to cope with the change or interruption to his schedule. I felt like he began to resent my presence and he couldn't even work out if I arrived at the gym first. Luckily, I had no plans to do triathlon at the time, as I was a runner and he was turning me off the sport and all things Ironman. I supported him as only an Iron-spouse could, but it was not enough. I didn't get it and I demanded too much of his time, he said. Eventually, he stopped including me in his life. I learned to keep my distance. Our marriage failed because we preferred to spend time apart for everything, and one can't build a life together if no one is in it.
After I moved out, and tried to put my life together, I felt a tremendous ache like no other. I hated to be alone, yet I withdrew. My confidence was shattered, and I couldn't find joy in anything I did. I wasn't even sure what made me happy anymore. I was numb, losing myself in work and pretending that everything was ok. I was tired of telling everyone to stop worrying about me. Tired of the surprised looks I would receive if I mentioned that I was once married. "You're too young to have been married and divorced," they would retort. Not too young to know that I could never go back to my old life. I just needed something to make me feel alive again. For some reason, I decided that training for the NYC Marathon, two months away, wasn't hard enough. Just before the race, and out of curiosity I went to the Ironman Live website and wondered what was it that made my husband choose triathlon over our marriage? At that moment, I realized that I needed to know. I needed to experience it for myself, and I needed something to challenge my will to survive a broken heart.
I signed up for Ironman Florida 70.3 without having ever done a triathlon. Without knowing how to swim. Without knowing how to ride a bike--the kind that had gears, handbrakes and no kick-stand. Without knowing what the hell I was doing, I just jumped and trusted I would land gracefully. I bought a bike, convinced bike shop owners to teach me how to ride, spent the first 3 months falling after learning how to clip in, took swim lessons, joined a tri team and then went to triathlon boot camp in Claremont, FL. It was there, during my first race following bootcamp, that I learned I did not have what it takes to do a triathlon---a sprint triathlon, too! To this day, my coaches joke about how I practically did not finish this race on account of 1) being so tired from the swim (I was the last one out of the lake) that I dragged myself across the beach like a wounded seal and could barely peel my wetsuit off and 2) having a 13 minute T2 time (they said I was having a transition picnic, but since I knew I would be last, why rush?). What happened at the finish line truly blew me away. After panting and choking through the hardest 3 miles ever, I trailed after my coach across the finish line and fell into his arms, crying because I was so physically and emotionally exhausted. I truly believed I was going to die, either from being eaten by alligators in the lake or from heat exhaustion during the run. I couldn't believe I had finished. It was a sprint race. A baby triathlon, for nearly all of my teammates who are Ironman finishers.
Afterwards, standing in transition alone, I was overcome by a strange, warm and invigorating feeling that was filling my senses. I could feel my heart beating, the sky never looked so blue, my body tingled from the physical effort, every breath of air was so sweet. I felt so ALIVE. I felt a kind of secret joy that makes one's heart want to explode if it isn't shared with another, and when the wind blew across my skin, it was as if Nature was whispering to me that I was going to be alright. All I had to do was find the joy in swim, bike, run. Upon returning to NYC, I promptly canceled my entry to Florida 70.3. The sprint race was a reality check and I would need more time to get conditioned. It's been 18 months since that race and I've finished several Olympic-distance events and have confidently registered for Eagleman 70.3 next June. The deep and lasting friendships that I forged from sharing the entire triathlon experience with others are a gift and I wouldn't have been able to keep pushing myself or believing in the impossible if it weren't for the support of this very special community.
Sometimes, when I train, my body screams for a break, but I feel so free from the fear and pain of my past. From the irritation and stress of work and living in the city. This is playtime. Every time that I race, my heart sings. I look over at my fellow competitors and friends in transition or on the course, and we smile easily, exchanging words of encouragement and support to keep our spirits high. I've stopped wondering why things didn't work out with my ex. Triathlon has taught me that Life, like races, doesn't always unfold as we expect or hope. Every day and every race, there is another opportunity to make it better if we persevere, demand the best from ourselves and remain open to the possibility of success and happiness in all of its forms.
This is ridiculously long, but these memories are what give me the confidence to get involved in the tri community, to help new athletes and to not be afraid of unknown or challenging situations.