It doesn't get easier, you just get stronger. I can't even begin to say how much that saying simultaneously frustrates me and also describes the last 4 years for me. After IM Tulsa's crash, I really questioned if I was even capable of ironman anymore. Not only was my body in pain, my soul was absolutely crushed. Laying there on the pavement, there was a moment that crossed my mind that I couldn't do this anymore. Let's recap as to what caused that brief moment of quit:
1. I DNF'd Ironman Maryland in 2015 after passing out off the bike. My day ended in ambulance trip to the ER.
2. Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer just 5 days after my last ironman finish at IM Wisconsin in 2017. That race really does mark a turning point in my life.
3. Dad passed away in April of 2018. My world was shattered.
4. I do what I always do, push down my grief and try and move forward. I signed up for Ironman Boulder in 2019, just a week after my dad's interment into Arlington National Cemetery. What I suspect is a combination of grief, exhaustion, and being sick results in yet another DNF and ambulance trip at Ironman Boulder.
5. 2020 - COVID. In some ways COVID and quarantine was good for me. It forced me to face reality and come to terms with my grief. I finally felt the racing bug again and signed up for Ironman Tulsa.
6. Coming into Ironman Tulsa I was in the best shape I have been in for ironman racing. There was no doubt in my mind I was in for a huge breakthrough there. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans and I was involved in a crash on the bike. Another Ironman that ended in an ambulance.
7. When I found out that I had no broken bones, my mind immediately went to planning my recovery and salvaging my season. Once again, I underestimated the emotional and physical toll this would take on me, but I persisted. I shoved down that hurt and fear and got back on the bike (not the healthiest way to go about things, but this seems to be how I deal with trauma).
8. Going through all the above while managing my normal bipolar symptoms and trying to remain a functional human being. It's a lot.
And yet, I somehow found something in me that needed to do this. Again. Maybe I put too much of myself into this sport, but this sport is therapy for me. The highs and lows associated with this sport are almost spiritual for me. Well I guess they are spiritual. There is something to be said when you are deep into the marathon of an ironman and your body is barely functioning anymore, and your mind is what is keeping you upright and moving forward. I love that feeling. And of course, the finish line is worth the 10+ hours of hurt every single time.
The hardest thing coming into Ironman Maryland was knowing I wasn't in the shape I was in before Tulsa. My body had been through a lot and mentally, it was difficult to keep going when I was still dealing with crash pain and to be honest, the emotional trauma. I came to terms with the fact that I may not have the best race ever, but I could still have a great day out there. I'd been waiting for so long for this race, there was no way I wasn't going to do it. Also, I convinced Liz to come out with me and race since Kona was postponed again. So honestly, it was a really fun week. My mom had gotten a sweet room at the Hyatt in Cambridge, so we definitely enjoyed our time lushing and soaking up the race atmosphere. And eating all the crab.
Race day is a blur to be honest. I woke up with an upset stomach, not so much from nerves, but for the fear that I end up in an ambulance again. I had told my mom and Adelaide that if I made it off the bike, I would finish. I would crawl if I had to. Ultimately, I think my biggest goal coming in was "just f*cking finish." The swim was jellyfish noodle soup. Thankfully, I don't seem to react to the stings and they were more annoying than anything else. I got stung in my mouth twice which was interesting, but otherwise I had a decent swim. The bike course is something a cyclists dream off - fast and roads in great condition. It is so rare that I get to ride fast here in NM, so I loved every minute of this course. I did actually off road a bit at mile 80 and almost crash, but somehow remained upright, and finished a relatively uneventful bike. Coming into transition, I had total deja vu from when I passed out in front of my parents in 2015, but luckily this time I was coherent and my mom told me I was first in my AG. Well shit. Guess I better hope that my run is there. While I didn't have a great run, I didn't have a bad run. All things considered, I was really lucky to be even starting the race, let alone running. It got ugly, I quit Ironman about a dozen times in my head, but I ran it. For the first time ever, I actually never walked except for the aid stations to take on fuel. I don't think I've ever been able to push through that much pain on the run before, so that is a win in my book. There were more than a few moments where my quads started to give out, but I found a new level of suffering and since I am a sick person - that's why I do this shit.
Regardless, as the miles ticked down, I reminded myself why I was here. I thought about how lucky I was, to be there and in that moment. I had two functioning legs and I was doing something I love. My body was in horrific pain, but I felt so lucky. And while I am not the most spiritual person around, I felt like my dad was with me, helping my legs keep churning forward. Coming down that finisher chute with dad's picture in my hand and my legs physically failing, literally opened the flood gates. Everything just came out. Four years of grief, the stress and uncertainty of my crash and how my body was going to handle an ironman, and the frustration of my last few ironman races - it all just came out. It sounds weird, but a weight lifted when I crossed that finish line. I can't put it into words how much it meant to me - probably because I didn't even know how much it meant to me until that moment. And I broke. I finally broke. I let everything out I have been holding in for so long. The immense gratitude I felt overwhelmed me, the grief overwhelmed me, the magnitude of what I have overcome overwhelmed me, and what I had just accomplished overwhelmed me. And it felt so, so good to finally let go. #ironmantherapy
I raced with so many of you held close to my heart - my family, my friends, my Coeur teammates, my SISU-IRLAG teammates. Seeing some of you on course absolutely made my day. I know for a fact I could not have done this without any of you. There are so many people to thank and all of you are amazing in your support. I need to call out a few people though! To Claire - picking up my bike and driving me home from Tulsa and reminding me that I can do this - I don't know how I would have survived those first very painful days without you. To Liz - I'm just calling you my ride or die at this point. You're unwavering support and friendship, especially the last 4 years, has meant everything to me. I don't know many people that think Everesting on a random Saturday is a great idea (spoiler alert: it's not), but I'm here for it. Having you in Maryland was a very calming presence for me and a reminder of how "fun" this can be. I wouldn't have improved so much in the last few years without you pushing me to be better. And let's be honest, post-race donut day is the best thing ever. To mom and Kari - I'm not sure how we have made it through the last 4 years, but somehow we have. We got dealt some shit luck, but in true Jim Seaman spirit, we have "shook it off." While we can never fill the gaping hole dad left, we have learned to live our best lives in honor of him. To Adelaide - it's amazing to see all the progress we have made in the last two years, not only from a physical standpoint, but in my mental game. I'm also glad that you like to do stupid stuff too, like ride through mountain passes for no reason. I'm glad I can count on you as a friend and to push me to be a better version of myself. And to Logan - from your very blunt "run faster" comments to your worry about me doing these things, I am forever grateful to have your support and belief in me (and begrudging willingness to let me disappear for 8 hours on a Saturday to train for my hobby!).
While Maryland wasn't the best race I could have had, I'm actually at peace with the Ironman distance for now. It was still good in terms of execution and a 70 min PR, but I know there is more in the tank. However, I am good for now. It's a bit of an odd feeling since I feel like I've spent so long chomping at the bit for that finish line, but I'm ok with not doing an Ironman next year. I feel like I need a mental break from that kind of training and I need to get my body behaving physically again. So next year I'll focus on 70.3s and let myself have a winter without the crazy training load that is Ironman training.