The alarm rang strong early Saturday morning alerting us to get up and shake a leg. Our 1st race of the season, a local half iron distance triathlon was in the not so distant future. I sat for meditation. First I looked outward to take in the sounds of the day. I heard the trees gently wrestle in the breeze and noticed that the birds had yet to begin their morning symphony. The Goat Island fog horn faded in and out with bouts of complete silence in between. The morning felt calm and so did I but as I turned my focus inward I felt great loss hanging heavy in my heart. It had been just four days since Harrison, our 12 year old golden retriever, completed his journey in this life and the wounds were still fresh. I settled in and watched as more sadness left my body.
I’ve been a dog lover my whole life with a great affinity for big fluffy dogs. When I was three years old, I used to ride a pair of Newfies in Great Barrington at my “Aunt” Connie’s house. We always had a dog growing up but never the breed that I longed for and as a child I made a promise that someday I would have a dog of my very own. Breed and name picked out, I waited. It would be 25 years before Harrison would come into my life and when he did he was everything I dreamed of. For so long, I couldn’t believe that he was actually in my life, it seemed like a dream. And now after waiting for him for so long and seeing his entire life come and go, I’m wondering again, if it all just a dream?
After my meditation I joined Beej in the kitchen for our pre-race breakfast: applesauce, vegan protein powder and banana. Coming off the most exhausting week of my life, I was feeling better than I had in days. I felt Beej’s energy was very low, losing his best friend was proving painful. We moved quietly around the house that morning, loved up Lhasa, our 10 year old Berner and headed out on time to the race.
As we got closer, the pre-race jitters started to build and I felt some nervous energy arise. “It’s just energy”, I told myself and then chose not to create a story around it because under it all, I was feeling full of love. The entire week I kept waiting for the familiar pain in my heart, the one that is so tangible during any time of sadness for me but this time, it never came. Instead, I had an overwhelming feeling of love all week and I was taking that into my race day. The plan for the day was the usual; calm swim, safe bike and strong run. Race day success for me has little to do with a finishing time. To condense my day into a number on a clock feels too limiting to my potential. I like to see race day as a moving meditation where I get to put my yoga skills in action and whatever time comes from that I will take it with an open heart.
We arrived at the race with plenty of time to grab our packets, set up our transition area and get in a solid swim before the start. I decided to ditch my heart rate monitor at the last minute and followed an instinct to race on feel. My husband has been a great influence on me in this respect and the last two races I did without a watched proved my fastest. This would be my first 70.3 distance without heart rate but I wasn’t concerned. I’m confident in my body awareness, I know how my zones feel and I know how to race this distance. With heart rate monitor back in my bag, I took the max dose of MAP, a gel, some water and headed to the lake to warm up.
Feeling my lungs were open from some quick sprints in the water, BJ and I headed to the start. I was the 3rd wave to enter the water and after the last of the silver caps were in, I started my swim. This was a different start for me since it was my first time trial start. I’ve said before, originally I was resistant to the new swim protocols we’re seeing in the sport, especially at the Ironman distance, but after this experience I have no complaints. I found it to be a smoother and more peaceful way to start the swim. I fell right into a mantra paired to my stroke. Calm. Balance. Calm. Balance. The water was like glass, the fog fell low and I could hear the songs of the morning birds. Calm. Balance. Calm. Balance. I thought about how much Harry loved to swim, I smiled. I thought more about Harry, I smiled more. A few times I revisited my very rough swim experience from the year before but quickly decided that was a stupid idea. “Concentrate on the now, feel the love in your heart, this is your dream”, I told myself. Long and strong. I turned the final buoy and headed into shore. Finished up 6th in my age group and 37:42 on the time clock.
The bike course is a fast two loop course with rolling hills and beautiful scenery. I took the first lap easy and then hammered the 2nd lap. I was feeling really strong and having so much fun. My smile that started on the swim was now taking up a good part of my face. My mind was quiet and the experience felt more like a movie reel than a race. Bright colors whipping past, tunnels of tree covered roads, lifting fog over the farm fields. I was in a beautiful dream. On the second lap, I saw a woman walking a golden retriever puppy, my smile widened and I tapped into more love. A smooth ride all together, my nutrition felt right on and I couldn’t wait to get into my running shoes. My fastest 70.3 bike, I finished up in 3:05:54.
Into my sneaks and back out on the course. I took a gel on the way out of transition and one for the road along with a few S Caps just in case. I started in with a pace strategy that I got from an article written by Gordo Byrnn, I’ve used this for my last three half ironmans and it seems to work quite well for me. I take the first 5k light and easy, just get my legs under me. I immediately fell into the first mantra that came into my head. I can do miraculous things with very little effort. Seems like a mouth full but it always falls right in rhythm with my foot strike. I picked it up for the 2nd 5k and felt strong although I had a familiar nerve pain acting up in my right foot. I know how intense it can get but I also know how to work with it and not feed into the drama which always makes it worse. I started in with a new mantra Joy, joy, there is no pain.
I stopped at each aid station to take in water and grab some ice. Normally I run through grabbing what I need without stopping but this seemed to be the perfect amount of time to cease the pain in my foot and then start up strong again. I noticed the time and saw that I was on pace for a PR on the day. I found myself hurling into the future of mathematics and fastest finish times. Then I thought of Harry and how he would command my presence over the last few months. He forced me to slow down almost always as I was rushing out the door. He showed me time and time again that nothing matters but this moment. I came back to my breath and the moment where I was in the race. Why not enjoy it all?
At mile 7, I took in a gel thinking I could use the boost for the final miles. My foot pain persisted but I could still run my pace and breath through the discomfort as long as I stayed present and out of the story. I started taking coke at mile 9 and rode the sugar blast for the final aid stations. I hit the 10 mile mark, threw it into my final gear and listened for my 5k pace breathing pattern. I found it and settled in. A new set of words came into my head, Love is power, my smile grew even bigger and my heart overflowed as I raced to the finish. I sprinted through the arch with a sub 2 hour run and claimed a personal best on the day with 5:48:42 on the clock.
There is no doubt in my mind that it was Harrison’s energy that was with me on race day. In his final months, I would sit with him in meditation almost every day. I would place my hand on him and focus deeply into the space between our contact. I would spend the meditation reciting a sacred prayer I started to work with when it became clear that Harrison was sick and not going to get better. I repeated the words over and over again in my head as I soaked up his love and gave him mine.
Meditator Bob once told me that this life, as we know it in human form, is a dream. The grand illusion that we create as a projection of our thoughts. When I think of my dream of Harrison, the years of waiting and now the years of remembrance I know that any dream is possible. When I think of where I started in triathlon and where I am now I am assured that dreams can come true. I’ve found it’s about having the courage to conjure the dream, believe it in 100% and then let go of the outcome. You have to trust that it will all be perfect because in hindsight, it always is. Acceptance, patience and love always attain the goal.
In honor of my very close friend Harrison Gumkowski March 28, 2002- June 10, 2014. Namaste.
Week #24 Recap
1200 yd swim
2000 yd swim
1200 yd swim
30 min yin yoga
1.2M swim: 37:42
56M ride: 3:05:54
13.1M run: 1:59:17
60 min heated vinyasa