Feet up and resting the day before Ironman Lake Placid, I scrolled through Facebook and saw this post from my friend and fellow coach Mary:
The next morning, I stood on the beach of Mirror Lake, waiting for the 2017 Ironman Lake Placid to begin. In that moment, I lived a different present than the last time I raced an Ironman, 3 years ago.
When I first registered for IMLP 2017, I wanted to chase my Ironman past. I felt like I had unfinished business with Lake Placid. I had goals for Ironman – back in 2013 and 2014 – that I didn’t achieve. I thought – for almost this entire season – that I was chasing those goals from the past. Yet, experience changes us. Those goals, while still in my mind, were no longer my priority as I stood waiting for the race to start.
I had changed. What I wanted from the day was not what I originally believed it would be.
As I listened to the Star Spangled Banner, and soaked in the race morning energy, I wanted a day full of joy and gratitude for moving my body, being with community, and celebrating life.
But, that’s not a very sexy goal, is it?
We love the small-town-girl-makes-it-big-and-fast headline. The small-town-girl-finds-gratitude-and-joy isn’t quite as titillating. But it is a lot more rewarding for this small town girl.
As Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, counted down the moments until the start, I realized that this day – this 2017 Ironman Lake Placid – was about my experience.
What experience did I want?
Simple: I wanted to have fun. All of the fun. Every piece of fun there was to have – I was going after it. I wanted to find joy and gratitude no matter what the day would bring.
The last time I raced Ironman, I fought for several years to find my way to the Big Island. That singular focus – all Kona, all the time – was rewarding. But, that goal led to very particular types of race experiences. After a while, racing that way just started to feel like a job, and it stole too much of my joy.
The first time I raced in Lake Placid in 2010, I had so much fun, felt so much joy – I just wanted to feel that way again – not just at the finish line, and not because I “beat” some arbitrary time or person.
I set my intention on the shores of Mirror Lake, and that’s how my day went. Exactly. Like. That.
I swam, I biked, I ran. But, it’s not the movements that matter – it’s the moments. I have some precious moments that I remember from this race.
Can’t shake that smile
After the initial rush of the swim start, I found my way to the famed underwater cable that lines the Ironman Lake Placid swim. I smiled and thought: There you are, my pretty.
That smile and my attention to the task at hand stayed with me all day.
In previous years, I didn’t smile that much, for fear that it was a “waste of energy.” On this day, it was quite the opposite. I felt the energy that a smile brings to your mind and soul.
This smiling doesn’t mean that I didn’t work hard. I did.
It doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some seriously uncomfortable moments. I did.
It doesn’t mean that the race didn’t hurt. It totally did.
It is normal to feel uncomfortable during a race that lasts all day long. For me, endurance sport is rewarding because I can find those edges and learn just a little bit more about myself in those moments. I can cower to the pain, or I can choose to enjoy all of the moments and sensations for the teachers that they are.
We don’t have to choose misery over joy.
Bike handling skills are not overrated
I rode the Keene descent in training for the first time a little over 8 years ago. On that day, I crushed the ulnar nerve in my hand from braking so hard.
Flash forward to July 23, 2017:
I saw the first set of fluorescent signs that signal the descent is coming. I felt the headwind pushing against me. I tucked myself into aero and let the bike go. Instead of panic, I smiled into the speed.
I felt the wind on my teeth.
For the first time in 8 years of riding this course, I started the descent in aero–and I liked it.
As the descent got steeper, and a bit more twisty, I continued to let the bike go.
I cornered the way you are supposed to, outside leg down, inside knee out, leaning the bike into the turn. I focused on the execution of the movement, and in doing so, I had no need for panic or anxiety.
This moment is one of my favorites from the day. I was a dog, hanging its head out of the window during a car ride, enjoying the freedom of the open road.
Yeah, that much fun. All of the work I put into bike handling this year came together in these precious moments. I can still feel the wind as it whipped around my body; I can feel the smile as it snaked around my face. It is a memory bubble I won’t soon forget. *weeps*
Calm under pressure
During the second loop of the bike – as I was taking that very first climb up 73 out of town – my chain dropped. I got the chain back on, but it kept dropping – even though I was not shifting.
Um, that’s weird.
After a few more miles, a few more drops, and fiddling around with my options, I realized that if I kept the gearing at either the top or the bottom of the cassette, the chain would stay on. (Yes, also really weird – but that’s what worked.)
I had two working gears in the back, and I could switch between the small or big ring. Yes, race fans, that combo left me with 4 possible options on a course that climbs and rolls and cajoles for the entire loop.
The “me” of the past would have freaked out. She would have focused on how this would “ruin” her KQ chances, how much time she was losing, and on and on. She may have let her emotions get the best of her, rather than working the problem.
In that moment, I didn’t even teeter on the verge of emotional collapse. I adapted. Was it ideal? No. Most of that second loop, I was either spinning easy or grinding hard. Most of that second loop, I still smiled.
I knew I was losing time, but I had a choice to focus on what was in my control or to waste energy lamenting what I couldn’t fix. I focused on the fact that I felt pretty dang skippy.
This is a gift
I made the right turn up Mirror Lake Drive on my way to finishing the first loop of the run. We had set up a tent along this area, so I knew my friends and family would be here – somewhere – I looked for them eagerly.
As I came up the road, I heard them before I saw them – these people that are so important in my life, and making that connection I felt so deeply appreciative for their love and support.
I see my husband John’s face, smiling, screaming: “You got this, Maria!”
I see John’s parents – our biggest fans Jeanne and John – screaming my name and clapping.
I see the faces of my friends, yelling, “Maria!” “Go Diesel!” “You are killing this!”
I returned their cheers with victory yells of my own. It felt so good to be this happy. I was out there crushing my goal to have fun. I mean CRUSHING it. I pretty much stole all of the fun. My apologies to the other racers for not leaving anything for them.
Someone is happy to be off the bike. Maria Simone #slomo
Posted by John Jenkins on Sunday, July 23, 2017
My second time up the Lisa G’s hill (you know, the big hill up 73 into town), there was a woman who stepped into the road, pointed at me and said, “You have a gift. You haven’t stopped smiling all day!”
Thinking about that moment now, I don’t have a gift, so much as I have been gifted. I have been given the gift of movement, the gift of friendship and community, the gift of the present moment.
As I ran into the Olympic Oval for the finish line, I smiled in every cell of my body. The entire day was magical – and this final 200 yards is sprinkled with just a little bit of extra fairy dust.
I slowed my pace. I wanted this moment to last…and last. This race is so special to me – maybe because it’s the longest running Ironman in North America, or it is positively beautiful, or it was my first Ironman–or very likely because all of the people I share it with make my life a gift worth having.
This season and this race have changed the way I approach and assess racing. In the past, I would have been disappointed with this race because it wasn’t my fastest, and I was shy of the podium. I am rarely satisfied when I judge a race by time or placement. No matter what: I always want to be faster. And, this is still true with this race. Yes, I wish I was faster.
But, as I write this, I’m using a different set of metrics to evaluate the experience of this race. I’m grateful for the moments I had and the memories I won’t forget. When I finished Ironman Lake Placid in 2010, I experienced a sense of joy and empowerment that I had never felt before. Since that time, I’ve been chasing that high – and I never thought I would feel that way again.
Yet, I did.