Three (3) weeks into the new year and we've been talking marathons all month. Disney. Houston. Miami this weekend. And we’re gearing up for 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials in Orlando NEXT WEEK!
Philadelphia is rich with runners, many of whom you know, with awe–inspiring accomplishments. We recently caught up with María Paredes Fernández, a leader with T3 Philly, who competed at the Women's Ironman World Championships in Kona this past October.
In Maria’s words, without further ado:
PROLOGUE: This recap was hard to write. There were so many thoughts and so many threads, how could I possibly capture this experience? On which aspect should I focus? What was my takeaway?
Should I share my perspective on the general mood of the island and how electric that felt? How the feeling of camaraderie was intensified by being surrounded by other fellow female triathletes and the excitement of the first–ever stand–alone Ironman Women’s World Championship on the biggest and most iconic stage in triathlon? How polite, kind, generous, and supportive everyone was? How this year, in addition to the focus on the –est: the fastest, strongest, and bravest; that the athletes with the –ent: the patient, the resilient, persistent were given a bigger presence?
PART I: Should I share about how I had the best swim of my life, not because I surprised myself since I performed better than I could have imagined, but because I didn’t have to swim defensively and that, for once, I actually felt relaxed swimming in a pack? How hard it was to sight out because of the sun’s glare? How calm and crystal clear the water was? How tightly I pursed my lips so none of that salty water would go into my mouth? The sense of awe I felt as I watched the little schools of fishes below me and how soothing that was? How much my heart ached wishing I could share this moment with my dad? Seeing the shoreline and feeling both excitement and disappointment that the swim was over? The sense of gratitude that washed over me throughout?
PART 2: Should I share about the bike course that humbled me to my core? How much it reminded me of the rollers at Steelman Tri and how initially I found comfort in the familiar? How amazing it was to see LCB on course looking so strong and focused? How the climb to Hawi wasn’t as bad as I thought? The sense of awe and marvel at the beautiful yet barren landscape? How it was hell in paradise on the way back? That I had to improvise my nutrition when I realized that what worked in Placid was not going to work here? How I had to still pedal downhill because of the headwind and how frustrating it was to be averaging 13mph on descents? How that constant headwind and the oppressive heat chipped away at me physically and mentally, but how the thought of the people I love saved my sanity? How thankful I was for that experience?
PART 3: Should I share about the run course and the joy of accomplishing my goal of having left something in the tank on the bike so I could run most of the last leg? How on–point my nutrition / hydration were? How I saw the sunset at The Energy Lab and felt so connected to the universe at that moment? That, ironically, this point in the course that I had feared most was actually the highlight of my race? How I just kept moving forward in the dark with a glow stick and a headlamp with the sound of my footsteps keeping me company? That despite it being a highlight, it was also still treacherous because of the potholes? Or should I share about how even though this was my fourth race, how miraculous I still think it is for a body to pull off an endeavor like this, especially after having done an Ironman only three months prior? That I knew that my friends were at the finish and that I didn’t want them to wait longer than they needed to, so I picked up the pace for the last 5K? How much it meant to me that they were there? To see that finish line being better than what I had imagined? How I didn’t plan on doing a jump but how my heart was fluttering so uncontrollably, it took wings and leaped carrying my body with it at the finish (and how much my body protested midflight)? The level of guilt and yearning for my friend and training partner to have experienced this as well? To treat this race as a victory lap and a celebration of a sport that I love? That twelve months ago if someone said to me that I would get to be standing on the starting line at Kona at World Championships that I would have given them the most incredulous look? That my dream, a big dream, had come true?
EPILOGUE: What a day. What a range of thoughts and emotions. With the nature of an event like this, it can strip you bare and leave you feeling exposed. With so much time to yourself, you can’t help but be inside of your head for a while.
Throughout the event and especially during the roughest patches, I kept thinking about why. Why sign up for events like these and willingly put oneself through the gauntlet? This has been philosophized and written about extensively by those far wiser, more experienced, and far more articulate than me.
So then, what is MY why? As I’m getting older, I’m becoming more aware of the passing of time and my own mortality. If I have one life to live as me in my current state, how would I want to look back at this? Was it a life well lived? I landed on some clichés, but I guess they are what they are for a reason.
During the training and the actual event, I become acutely aware of my own existence. I feel and I feel profoundly and intensely. Landscapes are much more beautiful and vibrant. The excitement to see wildlife is richer. I am most in–tune with my body and it never ceases to amaze me with what it can do. My appreciation of those around me grueling through the same task as well as those that volunteer their time to be there is stronger.
Events like these force me to live in the present and through the pain, it reminds me that I am alive. If my mind does wander, it goes to what is important in my life. Or I guess I should say who is important. Although they may not be with me at that time, I feel so connected to my loved ones and their memories give me strength. My community is with me even though they might not physically be there.
Perhaps that is my takeaway. Much like The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, life is what you make of it. I hope you are able to pursue the goals that give meaning to your life and that you live your life to its fullest expression.
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