Last Chances and Lost Causes: 2014 Ironman Louisville

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This is what happens when you drown your sorrows in Fireball. Be careful…

*Note: This is a race report about my experience with IMLou in 2014. If you are looking for a course overview of Ironman Louisville, please click here.

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In the 24 hours after I finished Ironman Coeur d’Alene, narrowly missing a Kona slot by 90 seconds, I hastily decided that I was swearing off Ironman for at least a year. I didn’t want to take the sting of another defeat if it didn’t work out. Again. Again. Again.

Three near misses were starting to shake my confidence. And, sitting through three sets of slot allocations was pure torture, feeling like my heart was being torn from my chest as I watched others celebrate their dreams come true. At IMCdA, it was downright depressing, struggling not to cry, trying to pretend that it was okay.

Nope. I didn’t think my heart could take it again. I wanted to keep believing, but my heart was broken. Again. Again. Again.

Here’s the email I sent to Vince the day after the IMCdA (sorry in advance about the cussing):

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Wow. I sound PATHETIC, a whining little baby. Then, I regrouped and sent him this email, the next day:

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Okay, back to determined, don’t stop believin’ and all that jazz.

Then, there was another email to Vince a few days later, after I tried to see if I could get a charity slot or endurance sports travel slot for IMMT. More cussing:

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His response to that email brought me to tears with what he said and the support he gave me. So, a funny thing happened on the internet about a little over a week after that, the results of which I sent in an email to Vince and John, with more cussing, of course:

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Ironman Louisville – the race of last chances for lost causes. I was going to give it one more chance because I wasn’t ready to give in. (Want to read my 2013 IMLou race report? Click here.)

Unlike other races that I’ve done in the past, I didn’t make a big announcement that I was doing IMLou. I wasn’t keeping it a secret – I just wasn’t going to make a big ta-da about it. I mean, really, this Kona drama was getting old and a little pathetic, right? How many times do you need to hear about a “near miss”?

I was starting to feel like that annoying friend who “was gonna” do something but… never does. I don’t ever want to be a “was gonna but…” kind of person.

So, yes, I kept Louisville quiet – not a secret, just quiet.

My list for race morning.
My list for race morning.

I knew things had to be different for this race. As our friend Chris Draper likes to say: “Do what you did, get what you got.”

So, I needed to change a few things.

 

Free your mind, and the rest will follow. 

First, I shifted my thinking from “KONA KONA KONA” to what I wanted from the race day experience. What was that? Execute my best-possible race from start to finish. I wanted to put every big and little piece together so I could know in my heart that there was nothing else I could have done. What would happen after all the feet crossed the finish line is whatever would happen.

I want to thank my fellow #JunkStrong sister, Jen, for her blog post that talked about her Kona Qualifying performance at IM Boulder. It turned my head around, and I believe that mental shift is what made the difference for me at IMLou.

 

The run don’t mean a thing if you can’t make your bike sing. 

Second, I had to stop biking to save myself for the run because the run is not enough to save me from a piss-poor bike. I tried that strategy. It’s a proven loser.

Again. And again. Aaaannnndddd, again.

 

There is only the now in racing. 

Third, I had to stay focused completely on the present moment and on MY race. No looking at the other racers. No calculating how far in front someone was. No researching who else was in my age group. None of those things matter because I can’t control what other people are doing. I am only control of my effort and my perceptions.

I suffered well on the bike, pushing as hard as I could sustain for the duration.
I suffered well on the bike, pushing as hard as I could sustain for the duration. My face tells the story here. Given the heat, I opted for a regular helmet, and note the extra water bottle tucked in my boobs for safe keeping. I drank two bottles/hour and peed 5 or 6 times on the bike. BOOM!

And, with that, it was time to race. It was my last chance to rescue my lost cause for the 2014 Kona Q.

I don’t particularly remember much about the race beyond this:

I swam hard. I biked harder. I held on during the run, resisting the urge to crawl up under a shady tree and die.

It was oven-inside-of-a-sauna hot.

I have never wanted to stop so much during a race. I have never fought so hard to find my way to the finish line.

It was my 7th Ironman, and there can be little doubt that it was the hardest day I ever had for 140.6 miles.

That’s your race report, folks. I hope you liked it.

 

The Real Story

The post-race story is the one I really want to tell.

I crossed the finish line, almost unable to pull in any air into my lungs. The volunteers caught me, and I was sobbing.

They were seriously concerned – no doubt given the heat of the day, they were seeing some pretty grim cases coming across the finish line.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” the polite southern boy asked, a bit of fearful concern in his voice. Oh, geez, here I go again, scaring the volunteers.

“Yes…” suck in air… “always…” suck in air  “have a little…” suck in air  “trouble…” suck  “breathing…” suck  “at end…”  suck.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d been breathing like that since mile 7 of the marathon. They wanted to take me to medical, but I knew I’d be okay if I just sat down and got some water. I’d also be okay if I would just stop crying. That would have also helped. Like a lot.

I caught my breath, found John, and immediately collapsed into his arms.

I was sobbing uncontrollably by that point, “I tried as a hard as I could… I tried so hard… I TRIED SO HARD!!!” I was spiraling into hysteria; the emotional release was so incredibly intense. I actually made John cry because my emotions were a deluge, washing over him, everyone around us, spilling into the city sewers even. Okay, maybe not that last one.

My body felt terrible. Everything hurt. I was fighting to get air into my lungs. I was dehydrated. And, my feet. Good lord, my feet. The pain was near next to intolerable.

Crossing the finish line. I have never wanted to stop moving so badly before.
Crossing the finish line. I have never wanted to stop moving so badly before.

While the initial splits had me in third place, I got bumped into fourth, which is always a possibility due to the nature of the first-come-first-served time trial start. Once I saw that I was fourth, my hopes for a Kona slot were dashed. As far as I knew, there were only two age group slots for my division, and I knew better than to think that they would both roll down. I played that game before. My worst nightmare would be to miss it by one slot. Again. Again. Again.

 

Just Roll It!

Flash forward to the award ceremony and yet another slot allocation torture fest the next day.

All of the women in my AG were on stage to take their award, and I had that terrible sinking feeling that I was going to be just outside a slot for the Big Kahuna. Again. Again. Again.

The announcer mercifully began the slot allocation process with the women, so I didn’t have to wait through the men’s process first. There were 50 slots in total available at IMLou, but only 18 of them were allocated to women, due to the percentage of starters. There were 561 females, out of 2388 competitors. 98 of those women were in my AG, making it the second largest behind the female 30-34 year olds (with 117 starters).

As the announcer (not Mike Reilly) said the names of the women from 18-24, 25-29, 30-34 and 35-39, I prayed. I’m not a hugely religious person by any means, but I know when it’s time to ask the universe for some help.

I was raised Catholic, so we’ve got all those saints, each one supporting a different cause. I’m very far from a practicing Catholic these days, but I wasn’t above using anything in my power to shift fate in my favor. I immediately thought of St. Anthony. Those of you raised Catholic know this one. When you lose something and you can’t find it, you pray to Saint Anthony: “Dear Saint Anthony, something is lost and can’t be found, won’t you please help bring it around?”

Well, I didn’t technically lose something tangible this time – like my keys or my wallet. But, I did “lose” a Kona slot, and maybe he could help me find it. Technically, St. Jude is the patron saint of Lost Causes, but hey, like I said, I’m a pretty bad Catholic, and I was pulling out whatever I had in that moment. So, St. Anthony it was.

Women, 40-44, Podium.
Women, 40-44, Podium. Yes, polka dots definitely go with plaid.

As the announcer called the names of the women in the younger age groups, here’s what I’m thinking:

Hey, Saint Anthony, soooooo, what’s going on? 

I’m SUCH a bad pray-er, right?

Sorry to bother you, but I’m at the IMLou roll down, and I’m a lost cause. I need your help. If I get a slot today, I will raise money for a lost cause going into Kona. I’ll Google the most extreme lost cause there is and then I’ll raise money for it. But, please, please, help me get this slot today. Please. 

Then, I thought about it for a second.

Wait! Pancreatic Cancer – that’s a lost cause and it means a lot to me. I’ll raise money to support a pancreatic cancer foundation. How’s that? Do we have a deal?

“Okay, time for the females 40-44,” the announcer said. I perked up. “This is interesting….” he continued. Then, pause.

WHAT?! WHAT IS INTERESTING?!?!?!?!?!?!?! FOR THE LOVE OF GOODNESS, START TALKING, MAN!!!!! 

“Originally, this age group only had two slots, but a slot from 70-74 came back to the 40-44 year old women, making it a total of three slots for the females 40-44.”

Apparently, one 70-74 year old woman, whose name coincidentally was the same as my grandmother Beatrice, had started the race, finishing the swim and the bike, but she did not finish the race. So, that slot came back to my age group.

John and I looked at each other. Our eyes were huge. Our hearts became just a little bit hopeful again. But, I sunk in my seat.

What were the chances that someone slogged through the surface-of-the-sun-sufferfest that was the 2014 Ironman Louisville and would NOT take the slot?

The announcer called first and second place. They both took their slots.

The announcer called third place.

Silence.

I sunk deeply into my seat and whispered to John, “Is this happening?”

The announcer said her name again, and then started telling a story. Dude! This is not the moment for a freaking story!!

John couldn’t handle it, so he yelled, “ROLL IT!” People around us giggled.

I grabbed his leg. “Shhhh!”

The announcer was a little bit pissed, I think. He said, “Hey, now, none of that. I can always skip the next name, you know.”

He said her name again. No answer.

IMG_8141Then, he pointed to us and said, “I guess this is Maria Simone, then?”

I leapt from my seat, and almost fell on top of the girl giving me the paperwork and the lei. It was super graceful. I attacked that piece of paper, ready to throw my body on top of it should someone decide there had been a mistake. You cannot be too cautious. Or overenthusiastic. Or something…

The slot was mine. It was hard to believe: so many things had to go just so in order for me to get that slot – and those many things went exactly in my way.

I have been blessed.

 

Saving More Lost Causes

Ironman Louisville was my last chance to turn my lost cause into a 2014 KQ – and it happened. John and I fully intend to pay this blessing forward and make good on my promise to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

We have less than 7 weeks to meet an aggressive goal of $5,000+. Every little bit will go a long way. And I know you all are wiped out from the ALS bucket challenge – but if you have $5 to donate to my lost cause, it would mean a great deal to us.

My mother died from this terrible disease in June 2012. It was the worst experience of my life. There was so little they could do to improve her chances – heck, there was so little they could do just to ease the horrific pain she was in for months. I’ll gladly suffer through another Ironman if it means that my pain can help the patients and their families.

Pancreatic cancer seems like a lost cause – only 6% of those diagnosed make it to a 5-year-survival benchmark. And, the overwhelming majority of people who have pancreatic cancer die within a year of diagnosis. My mom only made it 7 months.

It’s the fourth deadliest cancer – and it’s projected to become the second deadliest by 2020 if we don’t figure out better options for diagnosis and treatment. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network supports research, treatment, patient care, and legislative action, and they need our help to do their good work.

Please consider donating to my “lost cause” by visiting the donation page that John and I set up, which you can find by clicking this link. Thank you!

 

Giving Thanks

It takes a village to raise an Ironman, and I am grateful to so many people who supported me on my journey to qualify for Kona, and who didn’t stop believing in me – and who wouldn’t let ME stop believing, either.

I have to take the time to give thanks for the blessings of my village. Thank you so much to my husband (my biggest supporter and toughest critic), my family, my friends, my coach, and my extended social media triathlon and running community.

Each of you make my life better for having you in it.

What a great sight to come home to! Thanks Courtney & Kim, and John and Jeanne who also contributed to the decorated.
What a great sight to come home to! Thanks Courtney & Kim, head decorators, and John and Jeanne who also contributed to the decorations.

 

Don’t Stop Believing

There is nothing extraordinary about my physiology or my physical talent. It’s pretty average, really. I finished my first Ironman in 2010 in 13 hours and 33 minutes, a finish that put me in the last third of people to finish that day – otherwise known as the back of the pack. My bike was easily in the top 10% of the slowest for the day. And, let’s be honest here: I got into Kona on a wing and a prayer.

I’m not oozing with natural talent – especially when it comes to the bike. Stupid contraption.

But, I’m incredibly stubborn, perhaps annoyingly so. I work like a plow horse. I have a penchant for setting big hairy audacious goals, and once they are set, I don’t quit until I get what I want. I’ve learned that you have to believe in yourself and through that belief, you can achieve more than you thought was possible.

I’m convinced that the word “can’t” is an excuse. If you want to do something, don’t let a misperception that you “can’t” keep you from going after it. You might not get that goal right away, but with perseverance, hard work, belief and a supportive village, you will achieve it.

Don’t let a fear of failure keep you from taking a risk. I failed over and over and over. Until one day, I didn’t.

And, whatever you do: just don’t stop believing.

“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”
~ Gail Devers (Track & Field, Olympic Champion)

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48 Comments

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  7. caroline wilson

    Thank you for posting your report. My friend who occompanied me to IM Louisville sent me the link. This was my 4th IM and 2nd “somewhat close call”. 5th at Im Los Cabos and 8th at IM Louisville this year. I left Louisville feeling down on myself for my poor run performance and deflated about my overall effort (I know I left it all out there, but you always feel you could have given more)! Your report has inspried me not to give up my dream. Thank you for sharing your personal thought and feelings!! A huge congrats on your Kona slot!! Way to stck with it and not give in!!

    1. Don’t every give up, Caroline! Hard work, perserverence, and your dream will be waiting for you. This was my 7th IM! As for a poor run performance, I don’t think there is a single person who did IMLou this year who hit their targets for the run. 100 degree heat index kinda does that to you! The trick is managing that heat the best you can. Top 10 (8th) in the AG is absolutely nothing to sneeze at! Do you know how many people would LOVE to have a top 10 performance? I know I wanted it for a long time 🙂

  8. Hi Maria! I have been following your blog for quite a while. I have never commented, but this seemed like the appropriate time to make my first comment. I loved your post!! Your dedication and perseverance are completely inspiring. Congratulations just does not seem to be enough to say. You earned this and it is so amazing! I look forward to reading about your continued journey to Kona. WOW!!

    On a side note, a month ago, I completed my first IM in LP. The course description/tips for racing that you shared here on your blog was a fantastic tool for me. I read it dozens of times before the race. While we drove the bike course, two days prior, I read your notes aloud to my husband (driver). I wanted to provide you feedback that the time you took to write that report was truly beneficial. Thank you!

  9. Tears! You are so incredible and I’ve told you many times already , but you inspire me so much! You inspire me more than someone with tons of natural talent like Chrissy Wellington or someone who just happens to BQ or KQ on their first attempt. I am so happy for you! I’ve never rooted for someone in a race so much!

    I’m going to think of you every time a negative thought enters my mind during my next BQ attempt. Can’t stop , won’t stop!

    Looking forward to following you in Kona ! Victory lap!!!

  10. So inspired by your post. You capture everything I love about this sport and the people who are obsessed….I mean enthralled with it. It is a journey that may never to to Kona for me, but definitely stretches me to go beyond my self-imposed limits quite often. Donation made! Enjoy Kona!!

  11. Just for the record (you can look back) I said your next time out you would KQ… When I was a boy I grew up catholic myself, in fact St. Michael is in my car still. However, however for a highly effective prayer I would send them straight to the top. God himself. Anyway I don’t want to be overly preachy or try to get you accept Jesus as your personal savior via your blog,(ok that sounded weird) but know that every time I saw your name on facebook or when I read a new blog entry I prayed for your strength, health, hope, and for yes something called “Grace” All 4 are required to meet your goals on Earth.That 3rd place rolldown was “Grace in Action”. Congrats! Now Kona is a victory lap! I’ll be watching and yes praying for Team U Crazy’s victory lap! (ok off my christian sopbox sorry for sounding to overbearing)

    1. Thanks, Richard! I appreciate your prayers and your support. It means a lot to know that you are pulling for me – and we’ve been online friends for quite a while now. We all have different ways to get in touch with a higher power – and our journeys make us better people for it. Thanks for being a part of the journey!

  12. Mike

    Congrats Maria. I know how hard Louisville (2012 & 2013) can be and to race yourself into a Kona slot is so inspiring. As a 67 year old I still have the Kona dream and plan to try again next a year. Your success has given me the hope that maybe I’ll be on my way to the big island before it’s too late. Enjoy the moment, you earned it. From one New Jersey triathlete to another, congratulations.

  13. iamcdn

    I was at CDA and recognized you at the awards ceremony from reading your blog. Was heartbreaking to watch you hoping for that slot. So happy that your dream’s finally come true. Good luck at Kona!

  14. Wow. This post. It was just as amazing as your journey. Ok, fine. Maybe not quite as amazing, but seriously. It gave me chills! I’m about to embark on my first ironman (Chattanooga) and I can SO relate to you and the way you talk about the bike. It is stupid. Lol! Congratulations doesn’t seem to be a fitting enough word for the work you’ve put in for this accomplishment! From one bad Catholic to another, YOU KICK ASS. I never met you or your mom but I bet she’s very, very proud.

    1. Beth – thank you so much. I wish you the very best day ever at Ironman Chattanooga. My first Ironman was the best day of my life. It was so incredible – and the beginning of so many more wonderful adventures. I hope you find it the same!

      And, thank you so much for your donation 🙂

  15. Tammy

    I’m bawling my eyes out in my office…7 mins before I’m scheduled to teach a new class of college freshman…I hope they understand my teary eyes. I’m thrilled for you and you earned this more than most…way to NEVER QUIT! I’ll support your cause.

    1. Oops! Sorry about the tears! But, I’ve been crying since Sunday. We start classes next week – so hopefully, I’ll be done crying by then! It’s hard to imagine that I still have tears left.

      Thank you so much for your support – it means so very very much!

  16. Thanks for the shout, Maria. I’m glad sharing my thoughts and experiences as a serial reformed Kona slot chaser helped you. I think it can be summarized as follows: do the work in training and focus on your own damn self. That’s the best you can do. Looking forward to meeting on the Big Island in Oct!

  17. This is just the greatest ever. I am so happy for you! So thrilled! I have chills and am in tears! and I will gladly support your effort. Huge congratulations and big hugs and tears and all of those good things! Yay!

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