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Coaches Blog

The Revelations, The Risks, and the Rewards - Part 2

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

by Mandi Kowal

I’ve had more post-race revelations than any previous Ironman. There were so many great things about the Arizona race that I loved. To start, just being at a new race venue was motivating. The weather was decent and manageable compared to other extreme weather conditions I have experienced as an athlete. People may complain about the swim not being a mass start but I see it as a chance to try and take on a different challenge. The swim course is protected for the most part. Fans can see much of it from the bridge as well. The bike course was a nice change of pace from Wisconsin’s course. I find that three loop course is a perfect way to keep my nutritional and pacing strategies in check. Plus the fact that it’s relatively flat allows me to keep those legs churning in a consistent rhythm which I find thrive on. This showed with my best bike in any Ironman race, averaging 19mph for the entire 112 miles while holding my .649 intensity factor. And even though my run didn’t go as I wished for the course was flat and manageable and cruising by the transition area four times sure provided us with that much needed motivational boost during the toughest part of the day.

With all that said, I yearn to put together one more race like I did in 2015 at IMWI. On that day I had a better than expected swim, a smart bike, and very strong run completing the marathon in less than 4 hours. I felt unstoppable on that run. So if I have another chance at Arizona where could swim a bit faster, match the bike, and run under 4 hours I’d be pretty darn happy. To feel that strong again on the run is what I would love to do. And I would definitely get a PR. I am however, starting to realize, more than ever, this is very tricky to do. I don’t have that many more attempts at this so the pressure is rising and because of this, so does the challenge.

Each Ironman athlete understands their limits; whether that is physical, managing work responsibilities or taking into consideration the amount your family can continue to sacrifice as you prepare. For me, I need to be mindful of how much my body can take. As a young athlete I trained hard all the time. I thought that I needed to go as fast and as hard as possible all the time. Well, my body was not happy. It’s important to me to be as mobile as possible into the future and so I have promised myself I would do only so much long distance racing. In addition to that I want to respect my family and the sacrifices they have made as I prepared for my Ironman races.

Since I’ve decided to limit my long distance races I find one of the hardest challenges regarding the Ironman is that I only get a few times to put together a great race. That’s a lot of pressure on one day for the year. It’s not like sprints where you can have several attempts in a summer. I get one day and so much has to go right. You can be as prepared as possible but I feel there is an element of luck as well. Besides the challenge of just finishing the distance there is a very delicate balance that must be achieved to put out the day you want. Your mind, your equipment, your nutrition, your strategy, your execution of that strategy, the weather, and your body all have to be in concert for the day to be a memorable one. And for this race, it became more apparent than any other time I have raced. As I watched what happened around me and as I look back I started to feel so grateful that I, for the most part, was having a decent day. It wasn’t perfect by any means but I had so many great moments in my race and finished considering my ailing knee. I felt lucky to be out there, with no crash, with no flat tire, with no panic attack in the swim, no heat stroke, and no DNF. The days following Arizona I learned that they had double the amount of DNF’s compared to the previous 10 years. I was shocked to hear this.

I heard people saying that was a brutal day out there but that’s not what I thought. The only thing that felt brutal to me was when I was puking so hard it went through my nose. And my knee pain was definitely getting in the way but overall I was feeling good out there. Yes it was windy but not what I would call brutal. I’ll never forget racing the Spirit of Racine half Ironman a few years back. It was hot as heck, heat index of 115 degrees and a pure suffer fest. Arizona was not even close to that race experience in my mind. So when I started to put together the facts from the day, it started to make more sense. Not everyone had has those experiences so for this race, the conditions did impact all racers. With strong winds and rising temps, topping off at 90 degree’s, it was enough to create some serious issues and since I didn’t have those same issues or the extent of them, I can conclude that my improved nutrition plan only needed a little tweaking to do. It was good enough to make the majority of my race a good one. For example, more salt at the tail end of my bike ride could have helped me body absorb liquid and keep my from getting sick.

And finally the revelation that one must not decide on next year’s race schedule until a week post race day became clearer than ever. Live and learn, or more like get hit over the head by a frying pan once more to realize this. I laugh at myself now thinking about it. We must take time after the race to accurately evaluate your race. Give it time, take out your emotions, and organize the facts to see what went well and what needs to be adjusted. I said no more Ironman’s for me to Lynn as we sat scarfing pizza down in the athlete area after this race. Once I got in some calories and rest, I was motivated to race again knowing how I was running before this whole knee issue began. This week learned that I had a stress fracture; along with a near full meniscus tear and severe chondromalacia. With time these will respond to rest and heal enough to run again. What this means to me is that I have a couple of more chances at this distance and that’s it. I am motivated to try to put that complete race together. I have a dream to swim, bike and run like I know I can.

With only a few attempts to have this dream race I have to take risks to make this happen. And the risks are out there all year long as you train for the race. That’s something one has to be willing take. Like the Ironman, the year is long and so many things can happen. Again, your actions are what you have control over, and like race day, luck needs to be on your side. Right now, I accept this challenge for the coming year, I know more than ever I’ve been grateful to have been able to finish four Ironman’s and probably feel the most proud of this event.

You see, one of the biggest revelations for me after this race was the fact that it’s very hard to go through a year of training, 364 glorious days, and the race without a significant incident. Maybe because this is the fourth one, I feel luckier and luckier. And maybe it was because I watched a family in our community go through the loss of their sweet awesome boy, Calder. Life is precious and you never know what will happen tomorrow. As I was working my way through the run, in the dark, and uncomfortable, I realized how lucky I actually was to be out there racing. How lucky I was to be heading toward the finish line. From my earlier account, you know I was going to embrace the finish line and celebrate that fact that I just completed my 365 day journey. It wasn’t perfect, that’s a tall order and now one should expect that. But I decided to accept the challenge again, knowing full well what it means and I was able to do it again. And with this revelation, accept the reward of running the red carpet, taking in the cheering crowd and cross that finish line happy and proud.

I see this celebration as one of the biggest rewards of the year. I did it, I made it, I’m fit, I’m healthy for the most part and I’m here. I thoroughly enjoy the process of taking on a physical challenge as one of the most rewarding things in my life. If fuels my soul, it keeps me healthy and it makes me happy. I get to share this with others as well. Whether it’s been preparing for a high school basketball conference championship, the world rowing championships or completing for the Ironman I enjoy the process of making myself a better athlete no matter the discipline. This brings me balance in my life and for that I am grateful.

So I will continue with my quest to put together a complete Ironman race and all it brings. I will continue to embrace this process as it continues to put things in perspective for me as well as provide spiritual growth during those long training sessions.

And now I say “The End” to this past year with the band cutting ceremony – Ironman wristband comes off. Yes!

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