Words and photography by Robert Fleming
On Wednesday October 9th, 2013 at 12:00pm, registration opens and there is a narrow window to register before an anticipated record sellout will occur. I refresh the page at 12:00 pm exactly and the next 13 minutes are a blur until I snap back into reality and see “Congratulations, you are registered for IRONMAN CHATTANOOGA.” Step one complete. I reach for my phone and inform my boyfriend Daniel, “I’m in.” My heart rate starts to return to its resting rate. However, I am suddenly reminded that just ten days earlier, I was cursing myself and throwing out rhetorical questions about why I continue to push myself to this level of physical exhaustion and pain. Two years have passed since I raced a full iron distance triathlon and I have now signed up for another race, potentially with my boyfriend, that is occurring over a year out. I suddenly have trouble swallowing what is left of my morning coffee.
The first question I ponder is why I just endured 15 minutes of cold sweats and one click that automatically deducted $700 from my bank account all for the opportunity to push my body to the brink of complete failure. The question is that harsh because I know if I don’t get to almost complete failure I could have pushed harder. I start to rationalize the intensity, and realize it’s the same intensity that causes fans to wait in lines for concerts, camp outside on video game release dates and spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle of wine. A smile crosses my face and a stillness creeps across my entire body - I have just under a year to kick my ass harder than I ever have before and challenge those same nerves that just had my palms sweating.
Fast forward to the following February and I am 9 months out from Chattanooga. I go back and forth between calmly knowing I need to get my ass in gear and flipping instantly to “Oh shit, I better get my ass fired up right NOW.” I start to construct the vision for the race and put pen to paper creating the master game plan and training schedule for the next few months. The excitement starts to bubble up, reminding me why I love this sport. I often find myself find myself dozing off to sleep thinking of what my training will be like the next day. The music is thumping in my ears and it seems my feet have taken control of themselves to keep me moving. The morning light has not yet shown itself over the horizon but I keep racing towards it reaching for daylight. The air is cool and if I were to pull out my headphones I would hear the pounding of my feet against the city streets just like the music thumping through my body. The city is just mine and secretly I enjoy being able to selfishly greet the morning this way.
My racing career started at 21 years old as I searched for another sport to devote some of my extra energy to. I continued to sign up for more races and the distances continued to get longer as the goals got bigger. I soon realized I would have to alter my daily life and future plans if I wanted to pursue a multi-sport life. My weekends became so overwhelmingly consumed with training, that I started hearing comments like “you’re crazy,” “why waste your time?” or “you are just so obsessed.” Finally, the difficulty to balance my life with everything I wanted to do hit its breaking point. I methodically started to make changes to make space to create a life that allowed me to train, feel supported, build a career, and find and maintain relationships with like-minded friends and one amazing boyfriend.
For those who are not familiar with iron man training it is truly a journey to get to race day. Ann iron distance triathlon is a total of 170.2 miles, but it’s getting to that starting line, those 9 months of intense training where the juicy stuff happens. There’s an intimacy, a true merge between body and mind where you feel every muscle connecting to your brain to hold good form. There is an intricacy of being able to shift certain muscles just the slightest to feel others engage and push you harder. And then there are the moments that can catch you completely by surprise. Like the day I stopped midway through a run on top of a hill, the warm sun hitting my shoulders and my heart beating violently against my chest. I could concentrate only on a narrow view of the city through the trees and in that sudden stillness there was nothing but gratitude. In Atlanta, a city of millions, I was the only one experiencing that view.
It is moments like these that make the stress, anxiety, love, pain and exhaustion all worth it. As long as my heart is pounding and my body can keep pace I’ll continue to push myself to the brink of complete failure to simply feel alive.