Dealing with Disappointment

Posted in: Ironman, mental training, Triathlon

Disappointment and failure is a part of life – no one escapes it.  Recently, my season did not start off the way I had hoped or envisioned.  I had to make the call to DNF (Did Not Finish) Ironman Melbourne, a particularly difficult thing to do since I was very prepared to have a breakthrough performance.  Additionally, I had trained for five months and flown halfway around the world for this race.  I had spent almost 3 months away from my husband so I could train (training in Ukraine was difficult before all the turmoil and unrest).  But, some things are out of our control.  The day after I arrived in Melbourne, Australia I came down with a very nasty stomach virus (norovirus).  I can only guess I got this from the travel, as the woman who sat next to me on my 5 hour flight from the East coast to LAX, after talking with me almost the entire flight, divulged that she had just had the norovirus a few days earlier.  Oh boy!

Well, on the Wednesday before the race I projectile vomited, and then had a high fever and almost unbearable body aches for 2 days.  I was pretty much delirious and thought I was dying my body hurt so bad.  This lasted until Friday, when I was finally able to get out of bed and eat a little – as well as get myself to the expo so I could pick up my race packet.  My coach didn’t want me to do any training on Friday since I had just had a high fever late Thursday night/early Friday morning.  Needless to say I was getting anxious, and was really worried about being able to race.  I couldn’t believe this was happening now of all times.  I hadn’t raced since Ironman Switzerland in July and had really put a lot into preparing for this one race, and now it was iffy just getting to the start line.  But, to be honest, I was so tired and rundown at this point, I couldn’t even imagine racing an Ironman.  Normally, I visualize the race, getting excited and mentally ready to dig deep and really get everything out of my body.  But, I couldn’t even visualize it I was so tired and my body hurt so badly.  I didn’t feel at all like the same person I was just days earlier.  Saturday morning I was allowed to do a little swim, bike, run (normally I only do a 15 minute swim the day before an Ironman) and it was unbelievable how awful I felt – my heart rate was already in my recovery zone when I was just standing next to my bike – uh oh.  I spoke with my coach, and we decided that there was no way I could race by heart rate the next day like I usually do – in fact almost everything I do is done by heart rate, but my body was so screwed up, my heart rates were off the charts (we’re talking reaching my max heart rate just spinning up a little hill).

I was stressed, but also grateful to have my husband with me.  He came with me to rack my bike Saturday afternoon and even attended the Pro meeting with me.  I wasn’t feeling good at all by this point, even felt like my fever was back (which it was).  I got to see my friend Kim Schwabenbauer, which admittedly wasn’t as comforting as I thought it would be.  She is a super positive and cheerful person (part of what makes her awesome); but, to be honest, at this time in my circumstances given how I was feeling physically and emotionally, it was rather difficult for me to deal with someone being in their normal excited pre-race state.  I was struggling to just visualize making it through the race, and I so wanted to be in her position where you can hardly contain your fire to race the next day.

Saturday night, I only ate applesauce for dinner because I was still having some trouble with solid food and I went to bed early.  I slept soundly for the first time in days; however, I did have really bad night sweats as my fever finally broke for good.  Waking up Sunday, I took my temperature just to make sure I was cleared to give the race a try and it was fine.  On the way to the start, I will admit I felt really tired, but I was also really optimistic that my body would just snap back once the race started due to muscle memory.  I really thought once I got started everything would just magically fall into place.  My coach had given me some parameters by which to make decisions during the race about continuing – he had the forethought to know that things could be bad and that if I just toughed it out I would probably set myself back several months.  I was glad he had given me the parameters because I thought I would need them to be able to make the call if I had to; however, to be honest, once I got going I was so exhausted and hot that making the call was rather easy – but not less heartbreaking.

I started the swim and did not go hard at all, not even at the start.  I really just could not do it.  I ended up swimming in a group of 4 the whole time, which I was grateful for.  The effort was really easy, but I was also overheating and exhausted.  An Ironman swim has never been so easy effort wise for me, and after the fact I am thrilled to have been able to swim with the group I did while feeling so poorly.  That is definitely a positive to take away from the race – my swim is improving.  Once out of the swim, I felt as though I may pass out running through transition, but I thought the feeling would pass.  I jumped on my bike, happy to have made it through what is usually the toughest part of Ironman for me.  Usually I am thrilled to be riding my bike – it is my favorite part of Ironman!  But, immediately I had a hard time just pedaling.  My legs were fully cramped and my head was really foggy.  I tried varying my effort to see if I could shake my legs out – tried to spin easy (but was really not able to spin as I could move my legs fast enough), tried pushing the pedals hard for a few minutes to get the blood flowing – nothing would help.  In fact, the longer I went the more my body just ached deep in my bones.  So I had a decision to make.  “Time to be honest with yourself Stephanie,” I said.  My body felt awful, not just a having a little off day awful, like full blown revolt awful.  I knew I would barely make it 112 miles if at all – and that I wouldn’t be able to ride hard at all.  And when I was honest, I knew there was no way I would stay upright for 26.2 miles – no way!  It was not meant to be today – God had different plans than I did.

My husband was going to drive out onto the course and be out on the Tollway, so I made the decision to sit up and just ride easy until I saw him.  From there, I threw my bike in the car, and we drove back to transition to turn my chip in.  Rather than sit in self-pity, my husband and I went out onto the run course and cheered people on.  It was really hard to watch everyone getting to race, but at the same time I was able to give my friend Kim a split to third place and hopefully give her a little extra encouragement to get after it and get that last spot on the podium (which she did!).  It was a good day for her – she had an amazing race.  Honestly, it was hard to see someone have the day I was hoping to have; however, I think that is normal.  And at the end of the day, there is enough opportunity for success for all of us, and her awesome day is an inspiration.  It is testament to what is possible when you trust in God and put in the hard work.

So, now comes the hard part.  Picking up the pieces, putting my head down and getting back to work.  I honestly believe that this is what separates people who “make it” and those who don’t – how you respond when you fail or have a great disappointment.  The past two weeks have been a time of great testing of character for me.  Not only did I have the illness and DNF, but my back flared up so badly once I returned from Australia that I could hardly move around let alone train.  All I wanted to do was get back to my training, really bust out some good workouts; but, I have felt truly awful and been in pain ever since returning.  I take all this calamity to mean that I must have needed to refocus my priorities – I must have needed a wake up call to put my attitude to the test and refocus my motives for training and racing.  More to come on that as I am not quite out of the hole yet – but I have hope and faith and see the light at the end of the tunnel.


2 responses to “Dealing with Disappointment”

  1. Patricia Jones says:

    Thanks for this honest and sensitive post. The realities of life when we are in the trenches, are much more difficult to express than the triumphs of our mountain top experiences. Yet, I think both are needful. Pride does go before a fall…so if I had a choice, I think I would rather gain a humble spirit before great success.

  2. Nick Goetzinger says:

    So sorry to hear about your your struggles in Australia. Remember it is often our biggest disappointments that prepare us for our largest accomplishments. No matter, what you do amazes me. I hope you and Drew are doing well.

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