Kona… The World Championships of Vulnerability
When I think of a World Championships in any sport, I think of strength, power, and triumph - a testament of human potential. Kona (the Ironman World Championships) has all of that in spades. It also has complete body shut downs, the best in the world crawling to the finish line, triathlon heroes in tears on the Queen K. Just like in every Ironman, there are epic wins and epic meltdowns happening simultaneously everywhere. In Kona, it is on the world stage for all to see.
To race and Ironman is to be vulnerable.
Yes it takes fitness, strength, the ability to cross your pain threshold for many hours. Those are the parts of the sport we often see in social media. These are the photos I like to post. Ridiculous training days, hitting a great run, swimming a gazillion yards etc. These are parts that are fun to show off, I like being strong and confident.
Here is the thing about Ironmans, it doesn't matter how strong and confident you are, you have zero idea what is going to happen on that race course. Zero. It doesn't matter if you are the best in the world (see Daniela Ryf’s 2019 Kona) or the last midnight finisher. We all start in that water with a massive day of unknowns ahead. It is too long of a day with too many external and internal factors to know what will happen. To top it off, you get to find out what your race will bring surrounded by thousands of other athletes and spectators. Your win, loss, failure, triumph will be tracked by friends and family at home, witnessed by thousands of strangers and seen by fellow athletes on the race course. It is not like you can just hide in a crowd of 30,000 runners. Nope. It is all on display in lycra for many many hours. Signing up for an Ironman takes guts. Lining up race morning takes vulnerability.
Now, take all of that and add in KONA. The elements of Kona in the sport of Triathlon is legendary and made Triathlon and Ironman what it is today. It was what sparked my interest as a young girl many years ago. Choppy ocean swim, windy bike through lava fields, and a brutally hot run. Add to that the world's best athletes from pros to age groupers, all of whom are used to racing in the front and bringing their best when it matters. Plus thousands of spectators, TV crews, the entire triathlon industry, and the hundreds (or maybe thousands) of people you told you were racing in the Ironman World Championships, and you have a perfect and beautiful storm of absolute self exposure and vulnerability.
There are a few options for approaching this day. You can dive in with your power and pace targets, pushing for the race time your training indicates regardless what the day brings you. Resisting anything that might deter you from your perfectly laid out race plan, so focused on what your race outcome should be that you miss what is. This could absolutely be a winning strategy, it can also end in a death march at mile 16.
Another choice is to seize this incredible opportunity to see what you can do in acceptance of what is, vulnerability in your human experience, and detachment of the outcome.
Now of course, there are more than 2 choices, there always are, but these are the two that cycle in my head. My best races are when I am vulnerable. That means I race with what is in front of me. I race without "shoulds". The weather should… I should… I shouldn't… she shouldn't… All the things we think should be happening so we can have our perfect outcome. When we “should'', we miss out on what actually is (reality) and it limits the parts of ourselves we can access to solve problems and stay grounded in our race.
It also means I race with ALL the feelings. When you push your mind and body the limit you tap into a deep well of emotions. Doubt, joy, fear, anxiety, excitement can all happen in a 20 seconds in an Ironman. There are always ups and downs in a race. There is always doubt. When I race with vulnerability, I welcome all emotions. There is a space for all of them because of course I am scared, of course I have doubt, nothing has gone wrong. Feelings are not a threat or an indicator something terrible has happened, they are part of the race. I am a human pushing way outside my limits, of course I will feel the full spectrum of emotions, it is part of the human experience. Leveling up is not easy. I let in all the feelings and then I release them. When I am open to all my feelings, there is no reason to dwell on doubt or on joy. There is no significance to either one. No matter what emotion I have, all the paths forward are still open to me.
It means I detached from the outcome. Often, people think detachment is giving up or not caring. It is quite the opposite. I like to think of detachment as a way to be open to all possibilities. When I am tightly attached to an outcome, I am operating with blinders and can only see one way forward. Since I am not an all knowing deity, I miss the many ways forward in front of me. If you are attached to an outcome, then any action, external factor, thought, feeling that you deem to not be in line with your outcome is a threat. It becomes a day of warding off threats. A day of resistance. It is an exhausting way to race! When you are detached, nothing is a threat because there is no one single outcome, no one single way to feel or do anything. You can have your ups and downs that come in a race because you know it does not mean your race is over or “bad.” You can ride the waves knowing there are many ways forward, not just one.
In my experience, when I race from detachment, I race in joy. Really. I still feel fear and doubt. I still get lows and highs, I have moments when I am mad at the wind or the waves, my legs are still in pain on the marathon. In fact, I feel even more because I do not resist it. I am open to it all and I can release it all. In the moments of release, I choose to lean into the deep joy and freedom I feel when I race. It is the complete freedom to be fully me in every moment. It is a gift that I have not found in any other format in my life.
In 7 days that might mean I have the race of my life. Or it could mean I walk the last 10 miles. I have no idea what the lessons are waiting for me in the lava fields. And that my friends is the point. I want to race with the best on the hardest race course to see who I am when I am pushed. I want the incredible opportunity to accept my vulnerability on the biggest stage in triathlon. It will be a day of unknowns and a day of joy for me and all the other amazing humans that are willing to line up at the World Championships of vulnerability. See you out there!