I felt that feeling again as I was cruising along on the bike. Strong pace, not too hard, as if I were running off this bike. I was smiling from ear to ear as I have been all season long. Like every other race this season I felt that sometimes elusive feeling of flow, euphoria, just utter joy.
I feel it off the race course too. This year though, it’s magnified by a billion.
I don’t recommend the path to get here. For me it’s been through deep excruciating loss that I have found this. It’s through diving straight into the hard work of grief, after enduring the loss of a lifetime. It has been through a completely shattered heart and soul. I don’t wish this on anyone. I hope you never know this path, but if you have to travel it (and at some point we all do) I hope you have the courage to get through this in the way that feels best to you.
Grief training, as I have called it, has served me well this year and this season. My running injury didn’t come from overtraining, it came from grief itself. The final diagnosis was “Inflammation secondary to grief”. Research it, PubMed has some interesting research on what happens to the body during the first year of a deep loss.
I have been running for a few months , I feel great, it’s coming along nicely. Having started the season with Aquabike and having so much fun with it, I wanted to finish it out. Barrelman Long Course Aquabike was the next stop on the Tour De Grief, and I am not done yet.
Barrelman is a Half Ironman distance race (it’s not an official 70.3, that’s a trademarked name for Ironman branded events) located in Niagara Falls and Welland. Staged by the famed Multisport Canada and the legendary John Salt, this unique two transition zone race beginning at the Welland Flatwater Centre, boasts a flat and fast course. And it’s true. If you know my multisport history you know how much I am at home in Canada. It was so great to return.
The swim venue was unreal. I got to start several waves back with the aquabikers, and hunt my way through the field. The water felt great and athletes held their lines beautifully with no issues when overtaken. As a faster swimmer my thought as I swim through the waves ahead of me is always “hop on my hip, you got this”. Everyone was really polite. Even upon exit. The swim was a touch longer than advertised I hear (I don’t wear a watch when I race) and that, was welcome!
Out onto the bike we were greeted with a headwind for the first 10 or so miles. I love wind. I love a strong headwind. I love a strong tailwind and even a crosswind. I love hills, I love corners, I love descents. I love it all.
The roads felt smooth and fast and the wind immediately separated the stronger cyclists. There were two sections of the course, two out and backs, that got a little tight with two way bike and cycling traffic. No one was drafting and everyone was watching out for one another. There are many reasons why I love to race in Canada and this was one.
With a big race coming next weekend the aim was as mentioned before, to ride strong but in control. As if I was running off the bike. I don’t start a course with time goals. I have a power meter on my bike, but the battery died in 2018 and I haven’t replaced it (it’s a $7 battery, I just don’t care). I just ride. Ever since I stopped riding externally and started riding from within, every ride feels like magic. I cornered well, I passed well, no woman passed me the whole ride and just a few men did. I was able to get out to a spot where I rode solo almost the entire second half.
My position felt great. My legs felt fresh the whole day. If you had turned me around and said “now ride the other way another 56” I would have hugged you. I could have ridden all day.
Not a lot goes through my mind on a race course. But a lot goes through my heart. This season it’s felt healing. As I have talked about before, there has been no plan for the season. No phases. No stages. No nothing. I trained a lot, mostly easy, some days hard. Rested when I have needed to. That’s all. I don’t recommend grief training, because you have to go through something horrible. But hell, it’s worked for me.
Some people use movement to numb the pain, but it helps me dive into it, work through it. Feel it. Explore it. Whatever I have to do with it. I thank my Dad for fostering that within me. For some reason I feel him out there. I don’t know why.
As I came to the final mile I could see the mist from the falls to my right. I slid my feet out of my shoes and rolled into T2 where my finish line awaited. My legs felt awesome coming off that bike, and I am eager to get back to running in a race. I am just taking things methodically slow and steady with running.
I was fortunate to earn 2nd place overall female. I appreciate these overall podium finishes more than ever. When I later learned of my bike split I got emotional. I haven’t ridden sub 2:30 in over a decade (I rode a 2:25 this day), and it came with flow and feeling amazing. I didn’t even consider that as a possibility ever again.
I have been so fortunate to be performing well this season, right up there with some lifetime best performances. But again… the path to here was extremely painful. I would trade it all back in a heartbeat to have my Dad back. All of it.
He taught me to keep reaching, keep dreaming, keep pursuing the things I loved. While my mountain top might be a goal race or an actual mountaintop…. his mountaintop, his goal was to support us reaching for ours. I find that most fascinating about him. He hated the spotlight, but that feeling we all have when we are in it? He had when he saw us in it. It was really something.
Barrelman was another chapter to a dream season. I can’t reiterate enough that the road here was paved with so much devastation, terror, hurt and pain, that I am not on the other side of yet.
Thank you to everyone who has stood by me through this year and this season. It’s been so incredibly difficult and equally healing. I promise if there is a day when you need me to help hold you up, I am there.
And thanks Dad, for keeping me safe out there. I know it’s you. I have known it this whole time.