A Mystic Named Autumn

After the race I tried to find my mom and sister but couldn’t. They’d actually signed up to be volunteers at the finish when I was meant to cross much earlier in the day (we’d all actually been picturing a better scripted ending), but that time had passed a couple hours ago, and in the craziness of the finish area it would be quite an effort to find them. I decided to grab my bike and hopefully meet them back at the condo. After grabbing my bike and gear, by chance I ran into them near the exit. I didn’t need to explain my disappointment to them as they’d known my goals heading into the race, but they said, as you’d expect family to say, that they were proud of me and I was grateful. I was even more grateful, however, when they agreed to take my bike and gear back to the condo for me so I could go and get a badly needed massage. So I made my way to the massage area with hopes to finally rid my legs of their cramps. That’s where I met Autumn.

As I lied down to get my massage, I got to talking with the therapist at the next table. Her name was Autumn, a Kona local, and aside from being a masseuse, she was also a triathlete herself. Now I’ll apologize in advance if I misinterpreted anything said that evening, as I was tired, and though the particulars may be way off or right on, this is what I remember. As she worked on another athlete she began to talk about the race, the island and all the elements necessary to have a good race in Hawaii. She spoke of Madame Pele, the sometimes volatile goddess of the island. She spoke of the athletes and all the energy they stirred up on the island, how the intensity of all the athletes brought about the intensity of conditions on race day. She spoke of the power of the wind, and breath, how this wind was present in breath and the prominence of this breath in the Hawaiian language. She spoke of how fighting the winds was less useful than learning to stay relaxed and in balance with them, how the same was true for breath. She spoke about the balance of all elements and how an athlete must be in balance–mentally, physically and spiritually–before they can succeed on the island. She spoke of how even the greats had to learn this, to master all these elements, before they could break through and win on this island. She asked about my race, and when I told her how poorly I felt it went she told me to find the reason. To not think about a reason, or quantify it, or jumble it up with other ideas, but to right then and there look within and come up with the reason, to find what element was out of balance, how I’d know exactly what it was. Whatever that failing element was, its effects would resonate, be felt in all areas of my life, not just in sport.

And I knew immediately what it was. I had been plagued by self-doubt since August. It permeated my taper, and it caused me to continually make decisions from the position of doubt rather than confidence, weakness rather than strength–starting race week and all the way through to the end of the race. I changed race plans, equipment and nutrition. I grasped at straws throughout the race and eventually threw in the towel too early mentally in the run rather than give myself the opportunity to fail physically. And this was true not only for this race, but in a number of other areas in my life both personal and professional. This was a pattern of behavior for me when things mattered the most to me. If I was to ever succeed in the things that were really important to me, in life and sports, I’d need to find a way to resolve these issues of self-doubt, to not seek out ways, consciously or subconsciously, to set up for failure before I’ve even given myself the full chance to succeed. What was supposed to be a simple post-race massage to work out some kinks ended up being a pretty significant therapy session that left me some kinks to work out on my own.

I thanked Autumn for the talk and went off to find my family. They’d put in a long day too, but we always head back to the finish area for the final finishers so we got cleaned up at the condo and found a place to eat above Ali’i Drive. Race over, I splurged with some margaritas and the ice cream I’d been eyeing all week. As we cheered from the restaurant above, I knew how little it mattered when I crossed the finish line today, the important thing would always be the experience and that my mom and sister had been there to share in it. As the final countdown approached we went down to ground level to better show our support for the real Ironmen of the day, the final hour finishers. Always an inspiration.

Start from the beginning, Part One: The Race