“Jessica, you are an IRONMAN!” The announcer’s voice blared over the sounds of music, as people li¬ned the streets to cheer on the finishers of the 2013 Ironman Cozumel. “Si te puedes!” and “Felicidades!” they cried – but at the moment, my heart was sinking, and I felt that congratulations were not in order. The clock above the finish arch read 12 hours 13 minutes; not only had I missed a top finish in my age group by a long shot, but I’d also made no improvement on my time from Ironman Florida in November 2012. I was sulking as I dragged my worn body along the route to collect my finisher medal and race shirt, grab my gear and head out. Was all my training worthless? Was there any point in my continuing to participate in Ironman if I saw no improvement – if, in the end, I just wasn’t that good at it?
I hobbled over to the ferry pier to catch the last boat back to Cancun, where I had a flight early the next day. My family and my teammate, 3/c Sam Roets, were waiting there. It was all pats on the back and more congratulations, until I mentioned my disappointment. It wasn’t until reviewing the day, and the race, with Sam – for whom this was his first Ironman – that everything started to fall into a bit better perspective.
Sam had finished in 11 hours 33 minutes – for him, a somewhat disappointing race as well. Getting landed with flat tires three separate times on the bike course held him back for over an hour; at the pace he was riding, without the delay he should have finished in 10 hours 15 minutes. However, as he described it, his disappointment was short lived, and as we talked over the course, it helped me realize the extent of my self-criticism was not only unnecessary, it was detrimental. There are some things you can’t justify getting “bummed out” about; it takes up too much energy, and it spoils the gift. Spending your Thanksgiving in Cozumel and successfully racing in an Ironman are such things, no matter how you judge you final performance. In the end, regardless of finish time, we had one heck of a day: we woke up at 0430; we got in the water at 0700; we swam 2.4 miles; we biked 112 miles in the blazing sun, against a headwind, with the occasional rainstorm; we ran 26.2 miles battling heat sickness, exhaustion, and yet another downpour; and when the sun had gone down and the city lights had come on, we crossed the finish line and earned the title “Ironman.” It’s not something to dismiss lightly.
Ironman in itself is a test of physical endurance, of mental strength, of focus and of will, and of competitive spirit. Ironman Cozumel 2013, for me, was all of those things exaggerated to the max. I knew going into it that I was undertrained, an inevitable result of the Academy schedule. Whereas an Ironman athlete is supposed to peak at about 28 hours of training per week, with a Senior Thesis, busy division, three clubs to manage, and some semblance of a social life, I was lucky to get in 14. I didn’t want to admit it, but going into it, I was scared. Unlike Ironman Florida, Cozumel was said to be a particularly difficult race. It ended up being peculiar torrent of emotions, pain, and power that’s almost inexplicable.
More about Jessie.